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Linking Rugby with Tel Aviv

Technology upgrade for Rugby’s Center Mutual Insurance creates partnership with Israeli company

December 18, 2009
Edie Wurgler

A few years ago Center Mutual Insurance Co. of Rugby decided to start the process of upgrading their computer system.

They knew going through a technology automation process would not be easy, so president, Rob Hovland, and others went to a technology conference specifically to find a company that could do the entire job from start to finish.

A number of companies could do the accounting end, or the billing function, but not many could do the entire procedure.. Eventually a consultant was hired to put out the word of exactly what Center Mutual needed. A few companies fit the bill, but Compec, a business based in Tel Aviv, Israel, that specializes in designing and implementing software for specific industries, was contracted.

Since that time a number of Compec employees have spent time in Rugby completing various functions of the changeover. Employees generally are assigned as teams and specialize in one or another area of computer technology.

Donna Lanir and Omer Berman of Tel Aviv recently completed their third two-week stint at Center Mutual, in what Donna terms the final stages of the project.

"I'm implementing some software," Donna said of her job in Rugby. Her college degree was in technology management which is basically an engineering degree. "I got into computers by accident, and I love it," she said. "It's complicated," she allowed, and then added as an afterthought, " but really not that much."

Donna's responsibility is to calculate the different policies and implement the software for issuing them. To do that she has to have a good understanding of the insurance business.

Omer is a business analyst who provides software service for insurance companies. He started with Compec in 2005 and in his job has been to many countries around the world. "We have a big share of the market in Cyprus and other countries in the eastern Mediterranean. Center Mutual is our first job in the U.S.," Omer said.

Compec's program was written for Israeli markets so the company has had to make modifications for the U.S., which is making the job take longer. Eventually they have to find a solution for every situation which could arise, Omer said.

In Israel only two entities are allowed to insure farms, so Omer's experience in that area is limited. "Center Mutual has all kinds of farm lines," he said, and he must design for every one to make sure it computes properly.

Donna and Omer first spent two weeks here in August, with another two week stay in October, followed by their most recent one in late November and early December.

"We're not scheduled to come back again," Donna said, "but we might. It depends on the progress of the project."

Hovland is very satisfied with the headway made by Compec. "They've been doing the project in stages for a couple of years," he said. "Anything with technology takes time. They'll come and work and find 50 things that need to be addressed. They'll be able to solve 45 on site, and then go home and work on the rest. They're basically doing testing now," he added.

Rob recently made a trip to Tel Aviv to meet with managers and research and development staff at Compec. Center Mutual is already contemplating their next advance in technology, and it was easier for him to go there than for five or more Compec employees to come to Rugby, he said. Future plans include a website with helpful information for policyholders and eventually the insured would be able to access their policies online.

The trip was an eye-opener for him, Rob said. "Tel Aviv is a very modern city and reminded me of San Diego. Microsoft, Intel, IBM and many others do research and development there. It's kind of their Silicon Valley." Since Israel is a country with few natural resources, "Their industry is knowledge," Rob said. "I hadn't realized the amount of technology that's coming from that area." The cost of housing was also a shocker. "A one-bedroom flat goes for $400,000 in Israel," he said, incredulously.

Adjusting to North Dakota

Over the past couple of years Compec personnel have spent varying amounts of time in Rugby and have become somewhat acquainted with our area and people. One employee who had spent a few weeks here knew he would be coming back for an extended stay in the winter. He asked Rob what kind of activities he could expect, and was told to bring his basketball shoes. The man's spare time that winter was happily spent on the court playing adult recreational basketball with a Rugby team.

Donna and Omer, who speak flawless English, haven't had that much time to become familiar with the area. Most of their time is spent at work, but they did attend a fundraiser for Little Flower School at the Eagles and met many local people. They also drove to Minot on occasion to eat at restaurants there.

"Omer really likes Applebee's," Donna said, with emphasis on "really". She particularly likes American tartar sauce and ranch dressing, two condiments which are not available in Israel.

Donna was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, to Israeli parents who moved back to that country 17 years ago, when she was 12. Omer is a native of Tel Aviv. Both agree that they've never been anywhere like North Dakota. They were amazed at the distances between towns and the lack of traffic. Israel is about the size of New Jersey and has over seven million residents. And just before coming to Rugby in August, Omer spent a month in China where a city of 10,000,000 people is considered small.

The young Israelis enjoyed their time in Rugby's though Omer declared, "I've never experienced this cold." They found the Center Mutual staff "very nice to work with", and got acquainted with a friendly bartender at Bob's Pizza.

Next month another two-person team from Tel Aviv is scheduled to work at Center Mutual. And even though they are not due to return, Donna said,

"I'd be really happy to come back." Mindful of the weather, she added, " Even in January."



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