By Ara C. Trembly

Orlando

While some reports have information technology spending down in 2003 for the insurance industry, this years ACORD Annual Conference saw more than 20 companies announcing new products or product enhancements, sounding a note of optimism in a dissonant technology economy.

Much of the action was on the transaction side, where vendors rolled out new platforms and process-oriented products, many designed to work with and take advantage of existing and emerging ACORD data technology standards.

MFX introduced Write Now, a Web-based system that allows life insurance agents to qualify, rate, quote, bind, deliver policy documents and collect payment online, in real time.

According to Parsippany, N.J.-based MFX, the system reduces policy issuance time “from weeks to minutes,” allowing significant increase in business volume, efficiency and profitability. “Its efficiency also makes selling even small premium and low limit products, previously too labor-intensive to consider, worthwhile for agents,” the company says.

The system guides users through the application process, and the sequence of questions assures that all data are validated prior to submission, explains MFX. “Rating and qualification information is presented up front and ineligible risks are screened out before reaching the insurer. Approval is immediate and payments are collected online.”

The Application Service Provider (ASP) model of delivery allows users to maintain real-time control of product rates and business rules, and to underwrite cases by exception, says MFX. Software delivered as an ASP comes to the user via the Internet or a companys intranet, rather than residing in house on the firms own computers.

According to MFX, this means that, through WriteNow, the distribution force has real-time access to all account and historical information, including quotes and policies. This reduces the need to maintain paper-based customer files.

In addition to providing operational and support services for WriteNow, the company says the ASP model offers: 24/7 account executive services, repair services, required server hardware and network equipment, an Internet connection providing dual firewalls, capacity planning and research management tools, help desk services, and disaster recover services targeted at restoring downed systems within 48 hours.

MFX adds that, “the entire process is accomplished without the need, for example, for collection of fluids, attending physician statements or tele-medicals.”

Further information is available at www.mfxfairfax.com.

Exigen Group announced the Exigen Insurance Process Backbone, a business process product designed to help insurers achieve straight-through processing (STP), the ability to process transactions via the computer from beginning to end without human intervention at any point in the chain of actions.

According to San Francisco-based Exigen, this is “the only ACORD standard-based product on the market that enables enterprisewide business processes to be supported as a fusion of a customers existing processes, systems, business units and distribution channels.”

While the product is currently only available for pilot implementations, Exigen claims the software could address “over 150 cost leaks which can account for as much as 80% of activity-based costs in insurance business processes.”

Exigen says Insurance Process Backbone enables companies to measure and reduce the impact of “cost leaks” within end-to-end transactions. Reducing and monitoring such leaks helps maintain STP, the company notes, “even when steps of a process are performed by a third-party administrator.”

Further details are available at www.exigengroup.com/insurance.

Fair Isaac Corporation announced XML Manager for Insurance, version 2.1, designed to help carriers and agents more easily capture and exchange data “for faster policy issuance and reconciliation.”

The new release supports the ACORD SPX standards, says San Rafael, Calif.-based Fair Isaac. It allows carriers to define and maintain insurance policy and claims application data requirements in compliance with the ACORD standards. Service Provider eXtensions (SPX) let agents and brokers collect common information once.

According to Fair Isaac, carriers can use XML Manager for Insurance to update data requirements to reflect underwriting changes and to customize forms for new lines of business. The software automatically generates complete Web-based data entry screens based on XML input. “Agents and carriers benefit from reduced re-work while offering their customers faster turnaround on policy decisions,” the company states.

The new release allows more open and flexible integration with external systems via a partnership with Software AG Inc., Reston, Va., that provides message handling and transformation of data in ACORD XML formats, says Fair Isaac.

Additional information is available at www.fairisaac.com.

Microsoft Corp. and ACORD announced that ACORD, based in Pearl River, N.Y., will provide more than 500 insurance forms built using Microsoft Office InfoPath 2003, a new information gathering software product.

InfoPath uses XML (extensible markup language) and XML-based Web services to enable agencies to complete forms once, then link the data to other forms, databases, back-end systems and applications, says Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft. As part of the forms service, Microsoft .NET Web services can be used to provide additional functions, including e-mail, printing and data routing.

XML is a set of rules for developing standard codes that computers can use to read and combine information stored in different database formats. Web services are Web-based applications that use open standards to interact with other Web-based applications.

According to Josh Lee, lead technical strategist, financial services, for Microsoft, proprietary systems used by many insurers result in information that is “not unified across the enterprise.” InfoPath, he notes, will enable such unification.

Lee says Microsoft is working with ACORD to integrate InfoPath with ACORD forms. “Were really excited about standards,” he states.

Microsoft adds that the ability for agents and brokers to use InfoPath-based forms is expected to help reduce processing time and cost of completing insurance transactions, while reducing errors associated with re-entering data several times.

InfoPath will be available with the release of Microsoft Office 2003 Professional Enterprise Edition later this year, the company notes. Pricing has not been announced.

Computer Sciences Corporation announced availability of new life, annuity, and property and casualty insurance software that complies with the companys CSC e4 standard for enterprise integration architecture.

CSC e4 is component-based and uses open standards, including ACORD XML interfaces and HTTP-based (hypertext transfer protocol) protocols, says Austin, Texas-based CSC. HTTP is commonly used on the World Wide Web to define how messages are formatted and transmitted.

According to CSC, its standard “unifies” software components, middleware, business process management systems and workflow tools “to manage transactions between all major parties involved in insurance processes,” both internal and external.

Information on the new CSC e4-compliant software can be found at http://www.csc-fs.com/systems/solution_search.asp.

Swingtide Inc. announced two new products–incorporating ACORD p-c and life XML standards–to help insurers build networks of XML Web services for portals, partner collaboration and other critical business initiatives.

Swingtide Monitor and Swingtide Scorecard enable customers to “view, analyze and fine-tune business activity,” says Portsmouth, N.H.-based Swingtide.

The Monitor product monitors the growth and business usage of XML networks, the company notes. Scorecard is a method for accelerating the return on investment from XML Web services.

According to Swingtide, the new products let insurers read, interpret, manipulate and control XML meta data in the terminology of the insurance industry. Meta data is data that describes other data.

“XML enables low-cost partner connections, but if you dont design XML networks with an eye toward future scalability, the cost-savings advantages quickly get eaten up by downstream management costs,” says David Sweet, president of Swingtide.

Pricing for Monitor starts at $49,995, while pricing for Scorecard begins at $19,995, the company said. Further information is available at www.swingtide.com.

In other news from ACORD: Xerox Corporation, Rochester, N.Y., and Omtool, Ltd., Salem, N.H., announced combined systems that enable users to scan hard-copy documents, while simultaneously delivering them to pre-selected e-mail, secure e-mail, fax and remote printer destinations.

ePolicy Solutions Inc., Torrance, Calif., says it has formed a marketing alliance with InSystems Corporation to enhance its Web-enabled RightRisk insurance technology by integrating document, rating, workflow and business rules engines.

Wildnet, London, U.K., launched Wildnet Knowledge Centre, a collaborative document management and workflow system designed to deliver scalable applications over an Internet infrastructure.

MapInfo Corporation, Troy, N.Y., debuted its Insurance Decision Solution Suite, which enables insurance companies to visually scan across all lines of business to better manage risk and operate more effectively.

Camilion Solutions Inc., Thornhill, Ontario, Canada, introduced its Insurance Innovator 3.0 suite of products that enable underwriters, actuaries and others to deliver “mass-customized products designed for multi-channel deployment.”


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, June 9, 2003. Copyright 2003 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved. Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.