Computerization has always been a key thrust area for LIC ever since its inception in 1956, owing to the large databases that it had to maintain. LIC developed all its applications in house, and all its back-end processing systems were developed way back in the 70s on DOS and Cobol platforms. These were then further developed on Unix and integrated. By the mid-90s, LIC had rolled out a complete front-desk automation package, and christened it Front End Application Package or FEAP. It was built on SCO-Unixware, and it used a locally available Cobol compiler from Softek. By 2001, however, LIC underwent a major networking spree and the entire organization was networked. Due to this, the existing SCO-Unixware solution was not able to cope up. That's why, LIC decided to look for options that could work on their existing setup. What LIC needed was an alternative OS and a more suitable Cobol compiler.
After a lot of evaluation, LIC chose a Cobol compiler from MicroFocus and decided to implement it on RedHat Linux 8. The entire effort, right from developing the insurance application to the migration, was done in house. All programs were converted from the Softek Cobol compiler standard to MicroFocus Cobol-based pure ANSI standards. The migration was done across 2048 branch offices, 100 divisions and seven zonal centers of LIC.
The timeline and team
The time frame for this was chalked out as six months, wherein three were for testing and three for the actual deployment. However, it took a year for the whole thing to be up and running. It began in January 2003, the pilot was done in August 2003 and the entire package was ready for deployment by September 2003. The final package was deployed and working by December 2003.
The real challenge was to keep the existing system running simultaneously, because the same team of developers was going to do the migration. LIC also decided to maintain a single set of codes, which could be dynamically linked at the time of compilation on two different compilers.
A total of 29 people were a part of the core team that handled the project, and it brought the following skill sets to the table: core Cobol programming, Shell script and C on Unix/Linux, networking on Unix/Linux and Unix/Linux internals.
The business head for the project was RK Vashishtha, MD LIC, and the IT head responsible for the whole effort was TS Vijayan, who's the Executive Director (IT/BPR) at LIC.
Since the application was going to be used by all offices of LIC, it helped LIC employees provide better service to LIC's policyholders and insurance agents. The project effort was divided into two parts:
First is, platform-oriented conversions, wherein various Shell scripts, environment settings, peripheral settings, database connectivity, Web browsers, drivers and security settings were taken care of.
The second is language-specific conversions, which involved changing the syntax, inserting ANSI standards, creating copybook libraries, program control logics, presentating components, etc.
The above two parts of the project were divided into four deployment stages.
Benchmark testing of the old system vis- -vis the proposed system. For this, a benchmark tool was created to test the capabilities of the old Softek system vs MFCobol on Unixware as well as on Linux.
The testing tool was made keeping in mind the inherent requirements of LIC's applications, which were heavy I/O operations, high number of concurrent processes on a single application and a large number of users accessing the same resources.
In the next stage the actual conversion and migration took place. This was the core part of the project, wherein more than 8000 programs were opened manually, screened for syntax changes and copybook integration. A large set of tools in Cobol, C and Shell script were created to automate some part of the work. This phase was targeted to be completed in four months.
The third stage involved testing and doing the pilot runs. The pilot was implemented in one branch to observe the success rate, which was high. After this, minor bug fixes were done, and the final deployment was done after getting 100 percent success in the testing.
In the final deployment phase, the real challenge was the sheer scope of the project. It had to be implemented across the country, and done in such a way so as not to disturb the daily functioning of the branch offices. The actual deployment took about three months, and a considerable time was spent on upgrading all the hardware.
The cost savings
The financials of the project could be divided into five: software, hardware, consultancy, manpower and recurring costs. The real cost saving came in shifting over to Linux, because LIC was paying huge annual licensee fees for SCO-Unixware. The project is expected to run for the next three years.