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Business Computer Networks
Solas Insurance Agency
1. Overview:
The attached case study outlines the situation at Solas Insurance Agency, where two small offices
are about to be consolidated into one office. The General Manager has approached you for advice
on the much-needed improvements of the company’s computing environment. Improved
resource sharing, communication, and enhancement of working practices are some of the main
aims of your advice.
2. Objectives:
The objective of this coursework is to prepare a report for John Robinson, General Manager of
Solas Insurance Agency, in which solutions to several specific problems are recommended. Apart
from hardware and software considerations, issues such as implications for staff, organisational
practices, data flow, cost, security, and future growth are also to be addressed.
3. Individual Work:
This coursework can be submitted as an individual piece of work. In this case, the student should
answer all questions from Section A, and two (2) questions of his/her choice from Section B.
4. Group Work:
Alternatively, this coursework can be submitted as a group assignment. The group can include up
to three (3) members. In that case, group members should answer all questions from Section A
and all questions from Section B.
Additionally, each group member should answer one question from Section B individually. The
questions which are answered individually (from Section B) should include the respective Banner
numbers of the group members who answered them.
5. Plagiarism & Academic Quality
The University rules on plagiarism will be followed: https://bit.ly/2kNg1xC
There are a number of University support guides that you could use to improve your coursework
submission at http://bit.ly/1LwOQaV . You are advised to access and fully review
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at least the following two guides: a. Referencing and avoiding plagiarism b. Writing essays, reports
and dissertations.
6.What is to be Submitted:
Each group (or individual) will need to produce a report with a focus on the analysis of Solas and
on specific and well-argued and justified recommendations to John Robinson. An approximate
number of 6,000 words are expected for the individual report, and 9,000 words for the complete
group-based report.
7. Report Professionalism:
Your report will need to demonstrate adherence to high academic and professional standards.
Specifically, it is expected that your report will:
• Include an executive summary, synopsizing the key elements of your coursework
• Be coherent and consistent in presentation and style
• Make use of good quality graphics, diagrams, layout and design principles
• Provide at least 10 relevant and properly cited references from the academic and
professional literature
• Make use of the UWS referencing system (accessible via: https://bit.ly/2ko1Z5B )
8. Marking:
This report contributes towards 60% of your final mark.
Your project will be graded on the following aspects:
• Understanding of the issues involved in the problem situation
• Analysing and prioritising issues in a well-reasoned and systematic way
• Plausibility and viability of your recommendations
• Convincing reasoning behind your recommendations
• Innovative nature of recommended solution
• Structure, presentation and professionalism of your report
9. Submission:
You are required to have your report submitted, by Friday of Week 12 of the current academic
trimester. Unauthorised late submission/s will be penalised in accordance with University
regulations.
The report is to be submitted in electronic form, by uploading it into Aula via Turnitin. Also, email
your report to the lecturer at Costas.Iliopoulos@uws.ac.uk .
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Solas Insurance Agency
1. CASE STUDY OBJECTIVES
In this case study, you will evaluate the needs of a small agency, named Solas Insurance Agency,
and determine how it can more utilise its computer systems and IT infrastructure more
effectively. As part of this coursework, you will have the opportunity:
- To develop two methods for configuring computer systems, and provide networked computing
resources for a small insurance agency
- To evaluate strengths and weaknesses of each of the configuration methods
- To consider management and administrative issues relating to sharing computer resources
- To recommend a computing strategy that supports the future growth of the agency
2. THE AGENCY
The Solas Insurance Agency is an insurance brokerage company representing several different
insurance companies. The agency is located in a small town with a population of approximately
60,000. The town also services the needs of a rural population of approximately 25,000. For 25
years, Solas was owned and managed by Jack Jones. Solas operated from two small offices located
at either end of the city for the convenience of its clients. One office had six employees: three
insurance brokers and three office administrators; the other office has eight employees: four
brokers and four office administrators. Three months ago, Jones sold his business to John
Robinson.
John Robinson's business philosophy was different from Jack Jones's. Although the business was
successful when he bought it, he believed it would be more profitable if the two offices were
consolidated. With one central office, office rental, supplies, equipment, and telephone costs
could be reduced. Moreover, with one central location, the administrative staff could be reduced
by one person without diminishing service.
With this in mind, Robinson moved Solas into a renovated house in the central business area of
the town. The building provides room for expansion if the agency grows. Two employees left the
agency when it was sold; one insurance agent and one office administrator. Thus, Robinson
moved into the agency's new office with six insurance brokers and six office administrators.
Robinson also hired a secretary/receptionist.
3. SOLAS'S BUSINESS
Solas is an independent insurance agency. It sells all types of insurance: car, home, life, medical,
and business. Its primary customer base is private individuals. One of Robinson's business plans
is to substantially expand the commercial insurance segment of the business.
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As an agent for several major insurance companies, Solas is able to place each client with the
insurer that best matches the client's needs. The business has four major applications: sales,
claims assistance, client administration, and accounting.
3.1 Sales
Under Jack Jones's administration, the sales cycle usually consisted of at least three parts. During
the first segment, usually conducted at the client's office or home, the agent gathers information
about the client's insurance needs, income, and so on. Next, the agent takes the data back to
Solas's office for analysis. The agent then accesses one or more insurance carrier quotation
systems to obtain the rates for several coverage options and to find the most cost-effective plans.
Finally, the agent returns to the client with one or more insurance proposals. Jones had not kept
statistics regarding the effectiveness of this approach. Robinson, however, believed it contained
a number of flaws which he intended to correct.
On some occasions, the first proposal(s) delivered to the client was/were not satisfactory. Often
this meant that Solas's agent needed to go through another cycle of policy evaluations. Having an
agent make multiple trips between the office and the client reduces the agent's efficiency.
Robinson wanted to implement a system whereby Solas's agent will meet with the client, access
the insurance carriers' quotation systems as necessary, and arrive at a policy coverage / offer,
during one client session.
The second flaw that Robinson perceived was the interval between original client contact and the
closure of a sale. The interval gave prospective clients an opportunity to contact other brokers or
to change their mind completely. If the policy can be decided on and sold in one session, Solas
would be less likely to lose prospective clients. Furthermore, the brokers would have more time
to pursue new business.
Because Solas represents several insurance carriers, each of which has different options and
incentives, it is difficult for Solas's agents to know which carrier is best for a given client. Usually,
the client's profile and desired coverage are submitted to at least two carriers to find the best
coverage and premium. In the past this has been done by referencing quotation books. Currently,
however, Solas uses an office terminal to access a policy quotation system provided by each of
the insurance carriers. Each of the offices had a modem for this purpose and the quotation
systems are accessed via a telephone line on a local number, so line charges can be kept low.
The only difficulty Solas has experienced with the quotation system is that each agency has its
own data requirements and formats. That is, each carrier expects to receive data in a different
order and most require at least one data item that the other carriers do not need. This disparity
among carriers means that the agent must input much of the same data several times to obtain
a quotation.
3.2 Claims Assistance
Solas does not process insurance claims itself. The insurance carrier does all claims processing.
However, the agency does provide its clients with claims assistance. For the most part, this
consists of five activities: forms handling, coverage determination, explanation of claimant's
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rights and obligations, providing an interface between clients and carriers, and record keeping.
Many of Solas’s clients are not completely aware of their coverage details. Solas assists these
clients by reviewing their policies and explaining the client's coverage. This type of service is often
a prelude to filing a claim. To determine the client's current coverage, Solas's administrators
sometimes need to access the database of the insurance agency underwriting a policy. These
databases can be accessed directly from the office using modems.
Until clients submit a claim, they deal only with Solas. Thus, many clients view Solas as their
insurer. When making claims, most clients prefer to deal with Solas rather than with a large
agency in another city. Solas’s agents and administrators thus sometimes serve as the mediator
between the insurance carrier and a claimant or client.
Finally, Solas keeps records for each claim that is filed. This information is used to help the agents
sell additional coverage to clients and to help detect fraudulent claims.
3.4 Client Administration
Solas maintains a database to keep track of clients, prospective clients, claimants, and insurance
carriers. The database consists of both computerised and manually maintained files. Data in the
database are updated whenever status changes occur, for example, payments, claims,
cancellations, and so on.
3.5 Accounting
Like all companies, Solas has financial related applications: accounts receivable, accounts payable,
general ledger, payroll, budgeting, and so on. Under Jack Jones, these applications were carried
out mostly manually. Robinson intends to computerise most of the accounting functions.
3.6 Anticipated Applications
Robinson anticipates the need for a different marketing strategy if the business insurance
segment of Solas's business is to grow. Sales to individuals primarily require one-to-one
presentations for which professional presentation materials are not necessary. But marketing to
a business will require that Solas make formal presentations to business management. This means
that Solas must improve its presentation services. As a minimum, Robinson anticipates adding
desk top publishing software, business graphics software, and a colour printer. These new
resources need to be available to the entire staff. Finally, Robinson would like to establish Solas
on the Internet with a web site as part of opening up the agency to new markets. Doing business
on the Internet is certainly another option that goes beyond a simple web presence but in this
case, Robinson has to be convinced about the feasibility and chances of success of such an
undertaking.
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4. THE SOLAS BUILDING
As mentioned above, Solas has just moved into a renovated house in the business district. Solas
occupies the ground and first floor, while the second floor is sublet to a small accounting
company. The agency has complete flexibility to modify the structure to meet its business needs.
When the building was renovated, central air conditioning and heating were installed, and all the
wiring was converted to provide grounded power outlets. Because the renovators assumed that
the building would be used by a business, they wired each room with either two or three
telephone outlets. The telephone outlets are connected to a wiring hub in a utility room on the
main floor. The telephone wiring is standard telephone twisted wire pairs. The telephone
receptacles in each room are standard connectors.
The office building is a three-floor structure with a basement. Solas plans to use the basement
primarily for storage. The ground floor houses the reception area, five brokers' offices, and John
Robinson's office. The first floor has five rooms, three of which are occupied by office
administrators. The chief administrator occupies one of the rooms, and the other five
administrators share the other rooms.
For a lay-out of the office building, see Appendix 1.
5. COMPUTING AT SOLAS
Before consolidating the offices, Solas was a not a heavy user of computing. Each office had four
microcomputers (PCs), one of which was connected to a modem to access the insurance carriers'
systems. Each office had four early Intel Core i3 desktop computers. The i3 machines had
Windows XP installed when they were purchased. All microcomputers were used in a stand-alone
manner. Some microcomputers had their own printer. In each office one computer was
connected to a laser printer and one computer was connected to an inkjet printer. The offices
were relatively small; since only six or eight people occupied each office, sharing computer
resources and information was done by physically sharing a particular device.
The microcomputers were used primarily for word processing and basic data storage. Some client
data are maintained on the microcomputers, but these data are not well organised. On the
microcomputers, each person kept their own files. These were either spreadsheet or word
processing files, and the data were not usually shared among users. The primary data on clients
and claims had been kept in paper format and stored in filing cabinets. Sharing this data among
the staff in the small offices was not a problem because all employees and facilities were in close
proximity to each other. Moreover, the office staff knew most of its clients personally; thus,
inquiries were easily handled.
Each office was responsible for acquiring the software it needed. Fortunately, Jack Jones had
insisted on one restriction, that the software be compatible among the offices. That is, each office
used the same word processing software, spreadsheet software, and so on. The software used by
Solas is mostly early versions of Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel.
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6. THE PROBLEMS AND OPPORTUNITIES OF CONSOLIDATION
One of the strengths of the Solas Insurance Agency was its personal, friendly service. This was
partially made possible through the small office concept. After consolidation, it quickly became
apparent that the larger, somewhat separated office space made the method of data and
peripheral sharing described above inadequate. With offices on two floors, it was difficult for files
to be shared among the office staff. Furthermore, with consolidation, the amount of data that
needed to be maintained and shared was about twice the amount that was kept at each individual
office. The additional data made it less likely that a client will be known to the person who
happened to handle a client's request.
In the smaller offices, four computers had been adequate. In the consolidated office, a computer
was needed for each employee. With fourteen employees, Solas is short of this ideal.
Most of the non-computerised data were kept in filing cabinets on the second floor. Frequently
client files were taken to a broker's office for examination or update. Because of the
inconvenience of replacing the files, they often remained for some time in the office of the person
last using the file. Lack of easy accessibility also led to an increase in data duplication and
reproduction costs. Robinson had detected several instances of inconsistent data due to data
redundancy. On several occasions, agents had updated their personal client files and had
neglected to pass the changes to the administrators for inclusion in the office files.
Robinson was concerned that the consolidation could change the personal, friendly reputation
the company had acquired over time. He wanted an agency, which was very client oriented and
where the office staff can quickly access data for any client with whom they were working.
Robinson did not know how the information problem could be solved or how much it would cost.
After the expense of acquiring the agency and consolidating the offices, Solas's cash position could
not support an expensive solution. Robinson figured that immediately he could budget £40,000
to solve what he referred to as the "computer and data problem". Robinson anticipated that
further funds may be available in the next financial year.
7. FINDING SOLUTIONS
Nobody working for Solas knew how to solve the information flow problem. Therefore, Robinson
has contacted your group for advice on solving these problems. For your first meeting, Robinson
had drafted a brief outline of the problems and indicated their importance, as he perceived it. His
outline is shown below.
a) Major: Data availability.
Data in filing cabinets are not readily available or sharable. Each computer has its own set of files.
Office staff can only access files by physically using the machine on which they are kept or by
storing data on diskettes.
b) Major: Printer conflict.
Each computer has an attached printer, but it is not always the type the user needs. The laser
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printers are used for all external communication. These printers are attached to computers in the
second-floor administration offices where the brokers find it difficult to get access to them. The
administration staff does much of the draft copy work, but they do not have easy access to a
printer.
c) Major: Remote sites.
How can brokers prepare a proposal at a customer's location? Moreover, can this be done without
the broker having to enter the data separately for each insurance carrier?
d) Minor: Software sharing.
Software fits into two categories: the programs everyone uses frequently and the programs that
a few people use occasionally. For software in the first category, a copy has been made available
for each computer. For software in the second category, there are only one or two copies. Unused
copies are supposed to be checked out and in from a central location; in reality that seldom
happens.
e) Minor: Data protection.
There are a few files that are considered sensitive and should not be made available to all
employees, specifically data about salaries and Solas 's financial position. This data is now kept on
floppy disks that are kept locked in a filing cabinet.
f) Minor: Equipment.
There are not enough computers for each employee. Currently, the six brokers are sharing four
microcomputers. The output devices are incapable of supporting the coloured output that they
think will be effective for presentations to prospective business clients.
Solutions to these problems should cost no more than £40,000 (and preferably less.) An
immediate solution, say within three to six months, is desired.
8. POSSIBLE ALTERNATIVES
Significant modernisation of Solas’s IT infrastructure is needed. An apparent solution to the
current state of affairs is to install a Local Area Network. What is less obvious is the kind of
network that may be required. There are a few basic alternatives worth considering: a Local Area
Network with a dedicated or a non-dedicated file server, or a peer-to-peer Local Area Network.
Current, cloud-based solutions and the utilisation of modern mobile platforms ought to be
considered, too.
9. IMPLEMENTATION CONCERNS
Two things that many users of shared systems like a LAN or multi-user system soon discover are
(1) that they were not well prepared to manage such a system and (2) that the hardware and
installation costs were not the only costs incurred.
Before adopting a shared user environment, the impact of the proposed solutions on a number
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of areas needs to be assessed such as system administration, training, maintenance, software,
communications speed, and communication with insurance carriers.
10.MAKE THE DECISIONS
You are hired by John Robinson to recommend a solution to resolve Solas's current computer and
data problems, in a way that is consistent with the company’s projected future expectations and
development. Prepare a proposal and make sure that it includes solutions for the following
questions.
• If you are answering the following questions individually, then you should answer all
questions from Section A, and two (2) questions of your choice from Section B.
• If you are prepared to answer the following questions as a group, then you will need to
address all questions from Section A, and all questions from Section B. Specifically, for
Section B questions the following rule applies: Each group member answers one of the
questions from Section B individually; the remaining questions in Section B are to be
answered by all group members collectively.
SECTION A
1. Summarise the current situation and identify the main problems. Prioritise those problems and
recommend a plan of action to address them.
2. Recommend two possible solutions to tackle the current situation and develop a detailed
proposal for their implementation. Analyse those solutions using a set of relevant criteria such as:
hardware and software, ease of installation, ease of use, ease of management, speed, security,
and cost. (Additional criteria might also be used, provided that their significance is justified.) Draw
logical and physical diagrams of the proposed systems. Compare the two solutions and
recommend one of them; justify your final choice.
a. The two possible solutions should be substantially different from each other: E.g. a
Windows based solution vs. a Linux based solution, an Ethernet Cable – Wired solution
vs. a Wireless solution, a Cloud based solution vs. a Hybrid solution etc.
SECTION B
3. Assume that John Robinson follows your recommendation. Make further recommendations
advising him how he should address the issue of network/system administration.
4. The recommended solution from Section A2 introduces a number of points of failure. Discuss
the implications of this situation and outline measures to minimise the effects of this. Discuss the
cost factors associated with your proposed solutions.
5. Recommend a solution with which Solas’s brokers will be able to prepare an insurance proposal
at a customer's location. Also, make recommendations to solve the problem of different data
formats used by different insurance carriers.
6. John Robinson regards the successful exploitation of information technology as one of the keys
to boost Solas’s ability to compete with larger insurance companies. Develop a strategy for Solas’s
future IT infrastructure, application and networking needs, and suggest ways in which information
technology can be used in new and innovative ways.
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Appendix 1: SOLAS Floor Plan

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