Agency Business Systems, Inc

Quality Assurance rollout

There was an interesting series of events that lead up to this most recent ABS update. It started in February of ’23 when it dawned on us that a disturbing number of ABS users were being careless with policy and account data. Inaccurate data guarantees inaccurate business reports, the very reports that are intended to help you make sound business decisions. The quality of a management system’s data directly affects the quality of business management. So, we started a project to help assure data quality, and all the good things that come from that.

The new Quality Assurance (QA) measures fall into three categories: 1) automatically fix common mistakes as they are being made, 2) pop-up warnings when an error is found that can’t be fixed automatically, 3) provide tools that a) automatically fix mistakes that were made in the past, and b) inform the user of historical mistakes that can’t be fixed automatically. That’s just the beginning of this story.

We knew this QA update would be really big because it literally touches all the important parts of your account and policy data for every client and policy type. Because of the scope of the project, we hand-picked a group of agents to beta test all this new stuff. I tip my hat to them with heartfelt thanks. You know who you are. The program is better because of you.

The beta group started testing changes and the suggested new features in late April of 2023. They still do thanks to their dedication and perseverance. In addition to their testing of the new QA stuff, they offered other great feature suggestions which were all included in the update. The scope of the QA changes coupled with the newly suggested features made this the biggest single update in years. But before the testing was finished, fate threw a monkey wrench into everything. Really, everything.

In October, with no advanced warning, Google Chrome refused to let people access our website. At first we thought it was an issue with Chrome because the problem was only with Chrome, not other browsers like Edge or FireFox. After lots of discussion with our web server vendor, it became evident that it was not Chrome, but rather the age of our server’s Operating System. Chrome considered it out-dated, and therefore unsafe. So, in October, we bought a new server, which required everything to be migrated from the old one. Not as easy as it sounds.

We couldn’t simply copy the website from the old server. It was too old, and wouldn’t work properly on the new server. We could have updated the old parts that didn’t work, but that would have taken longer than just creating a new website. We didn’t have that much time. It came down to creating a new website at the same time as we were trying to finish the update to the ABS software. But it was about to get more complicated.

Years ago we created a web application called WebReg to get rid of the need to enter registration codes. The program would simply automatically renew the license. WebReg worked great for years but wouldn’t run on the new server’s operating system. That meant writing more code to replace web registration. That was a double blow. Not only did we need to recreate WebReg, we had to change the way ABS interacted with the new replacement. More coding in ABS to go along with finishing the QA enhancements while recreating WebReg and a new website, all at the same time. We just had to do it all before Edge, and other browsers, started following Chrome’s example, and block our website. That would make it impossible for users to download our new update. But we were optimistic. We actually thought we might have time to finish everything before Edge caught up with Chrome. We were wrong.

Since Edge and Firefox still worked, we thought there was still a little time. A few weeks after Chrome blocked us, Edge did too. We were now blocked by the two most popular browsers in the world but we were not ready to release the QA enhancements. Software testing was still in process. Even if we were finished with the enhancements, the browser blocking made it impossible for our users to download it. Add to that the fact that we had no idea if our original WebReg would get blocked somehow. If that happened, it would be impossible for any ABS user to open ABS. We were truly between a rock and a hard place, but the next turn of events was actually worse.

While feverishly writing code to create a new website while working to finish the program update, and at the same time, recreate WebReg, my computer’s mother board had failed. Fortunately, I had been making frequent backups of all my work. Even more of a blessing was the fact that I had a backup computer that had nearly all my software loaded. There were a few licensing issues, but I was back up and running a few days later. Certainly that was as bad as it could get. Not quite.

At this point, ABS users could still use the then current ABS version, but only until their next anniversary. That’s when the old version of WebReg would normally renew their license for another year. We needed to get everything finished before the next agency’s license renewed, which was in November, a matter of a few weeks away. That’s when we had to face the fact that there just wasn’t enough time to get everything done and have it all 100% operational. That meant arranging things by their priority. The most important was to make sure licenses got renewed. Too many people rely on our management system to let licenses lapse. That meant getting the new server as ready as possible and then, release the new software even though testing was not finished. We knew there would be bugs, but bugs are better than having everything stop. A very painful decision, but we simply couldn’t get it all done in time. I’m sure you are asking, “Why not just use the existing software?” The answer is, its license verification (WebReg) used to old server which was blocked.

The first release handled registration through the new web server just fine. But as we predicted, ABS had bugs. The crazy part was that most reported problems could not be reproduced on our end. Even so, we were able to find and fix them surprisingly fast, given the circumstances. Those of you who lived through this will remember several new updates, one after another. They just could not be avoided. There will probably be other updates resulting from all of what we just discussed, but at the time of this writing, the big problems are behind us. Part of prioritizing what needed to be done in order to keep everyone afloat was to omit some of the convenience things. For example, we had to leave out the feature that automatically downloaded and installed new updates. That feature was geared to download from our old, defunct server. That feature is now included once again with version

This article is not meant to excuse the problems this roll-out had. It’s merely an explanation of recent events to give you background for what happened. It is also an opportunity to thank all of our loyal insurance agencies. During this stressful time, only one office really groused at us about the buggy release. I’m sure more wanted to but were kind. Being upset about the shape of this release is understandable, and I apologize for the inconvenience. It would have been nice if Google had given us prior warning, but they didn’t. How could they? They have no way of knowing who is using an old Operating System. Perhaps I could have upgraded servers sooner, but why would I when it was doing everything it should, and doing it well.

Finally, things are pretty much back to normal. As I said earlier, there may still be a few bugs that we haven’t fixed, but there won’t be many. If you find one, let us know. As always, we strive to make our software better and more efficient. Also, you don’t need to limit yourselves to bug reports. If you see ways we can make ABS better, make suggestions. Our beta testers did a fantastic job of that during the test period. A couple of non-testing offices have already made valid suggestions that we hope to include with the next update.

We hope the QA enhancements will help you. There is a lot of information about the changes in the release notes that accompanied the installation. Read them. They will help you. I’m sure you will agree, this release was awkward. That’s because there was a perfect storm of circumstances. We all got through it, and the future looks smoother than the past. However, the blocking of our website is an indication of something much bigger.

There is a lesson to be learned if you look beyond what happened in your office and ours. Listen to the national news and you already know that America is under cyber attacks. The blocking of our website is an indication of increased defensive actions the industry is taking. It’s an effort to protect us all from bad guys. Bad guys that could do far more harm than interfering with the operation of ABS. I don’t mean this to imply that ABS was under attack. That’s not what happened. What did happen was caused by additional protection built into Chrome and Edge. They saw our website as having an older operating system that might be insecure. They blocked it just in case. That doesn’t mean there aren’t attackers out there. They are.

The attackers are interested in gathering as much data about America and Americans as possible, and they don’t care where they get it. They are also interested in disrupting business transactions wherever they can. They are winners in this cyber war to the same degree as they make our (America’s) industry less efficient. We have secured our web server through this recent hardware upgrade. We encourage you to evaluate the security of your system. Protect your data from intrusion. Currently, ABS does not force you to use passwords when logging in. That may change in the future. Protect yourselves now by requiring passwords. Protect yourselves from the possibility of intrusion by backing up your data regularly. You only need to backup the data you can’t afford to be without.

Read our prior blogs about security:

Securing Your System

System Security Software

Backing Up Your Data