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Sencha Touch Spotlight: United Heritage Life Insurance Company

January 17, 2014 116 Views

United Heritage Life Insurance Company, the life insurance subsidiary of the United Heritage Financial Group, has been providing quality life insurance and annuity products since 1934. As customer needs have evolved, the software development team at United Heritage has upgraded their offerings, providing agents and customers with the tools they need to make important life decisions.

Mobile was a game changer for United Heritage Life, but in order to provide a highly tuned and responsive user experience, our development team had a challenge: we needed to quickly ‘mobilize’ our IBM i midrange (AS/400) environment with the existing group of developers and their skillsets as well as the infrastructure we had in place. Writing native applications with device SDKs wasn’t an option; we needed a solution that would make it easy to mobile-enable our business logic, tapping into enterprise back-end systems developed with CA Plex and RPG.

Why We Chose Sencha Touch

We watched a demonstration of Sencha Touch with CA Plex and CM WebClient at a conference and immediately saw a way to get our insurance products to market more quickly while reducing costs. We were already using an IBM i infrastructure to develop browser-based applications, but adding Sencha Touch to the mix, we knew we could create and publish mobile applications faster, without starting from scratch or compromising the user experience.

The hybrid HTML5/CSS3 Sencha Touch front-end is very flexible. We can easily support our BYOD policies because our enterprise insurance apps run equally well on Android and iOS, with native device level interactions, and the ability to publish on both app stores. We used the Sencha Touch support for Cordova to accomplish this, which made native packaging a seamless process. This integration was important, not only for app store support, but to gain access to the native device features. Sencha Touch device themes were also important because we needed our apps to look good on our target platforms.

Sencha Touch Spotlight, United Heritage Life Insurance Company

We used Sencha Touch support for Cordova for native packaging and device level interactions.

We used Sencha Touch support for Cordova for native packaging and device level interactions.

The combination of Sencha Touch with CA Plex and CM WebClient made it easy to build a mobile app that fit into our development team’s skillsets and workflow. We used CM WebClient to generate the presentation layer for our existing CA Plex client/server applications. Using Sencha Touch, we were able to create a component-based design that further reduced the learning curve by providing components that matched the controls our CA Plex developers understood. The components were based on a hierarchy of abstract component classes with a consistent set of properties and methods, which made adapting new components much easier. Sencha Touch is so flexible that any abstract or real components we needed could be created. We found the JSON structure which described the Sencha Touch applications easy to read and consistent.

We also used the Sencha Touch Grid to show tabular data in many different formats. This key feature helped us to make sure the data could be navigated easily on mobile phones.

Sencha Touch Spotlight, United Heritage Life Insurance Company

We used Sencha Touch components and grids to make tabular data easy to read on mobile phones

At run-time, our mobile applications communicate with a Java Servlet that does a lot of the work. This communication integrates well with the JSON request and response method in Sencha Touch, resulting in great performance. Before starting our project, we compared the performance of Sencha Touch apps to natively-developed apps, because our apps had to perform with native-like responsiveness for our end users. We got the results we needed.

Using Sencha Touch support for Cordova, we were also able to easily set up the application, so agents can authenticate into the IBM i system and only have to install and configure the application once. After that, when agents log in, they are presented with a customized application list based on their needs.

Business Value of Using Sencha Touch

A high percentage of our business is in “pre-need” insurance, so we built the Pre-Need Calculator app for our agents. Using the combined solution of Sencha Touch with CA Plex and CM First WebClient, we were able to build a prototype with a familiar look and feel that made it easy for our agents to use. By investing time upfront to design a flexible user interface, we were able to build a second application, ‘final expense calculator,’ so both apps shared the same interface, with a choice of which path the agent wants to take. We reduced both our development time and the training time to bring agents up to speed on the new app. The production versions of the apps are available in Apple iTunes and Google Play stores, which makes it efficient to distribute to our network of agents. We see the value of this solution every day, because it does so much for us. It was much easier to build, integrate and distribute an HTML5 app than it would have been to develop a native mobile app from scratch.

Our Advice for New Developers

You have to take some time to see all that is offered with the Sencha Touch framework. But with some basic mentoring from CM First, we found it was easy to learn and use; we didn’t have to hire specialized mobile app developers. Our existing team mastered the new approach quickly. We found that we only needed minimal adjustments to our code, which meant we could roll out applications at the rate our business needed them.

Final Thoughts

Sencha Touch gave us the freedom to design whatever mobile interfaces we needed without worrying about operating systems or device issues. It insulated us from all the complexity. Our designs quickly became a reality on the screen.

If you are an IBM i hardware customer, you can take the skills you already have and begin to build mobile applications very quickly with Sencha Touch, CA Plex and CM WebClient. Other companies within the United Heritage Financial Group have seen what we’ve done with the solution and are ready to begin building their mobile apps.