If you were to make the perhaps arduous pilgrimage to my secluded guru den high above the teeming metropolis of Hoboken, N.J., you would doubtless have many important technology questions to address to my humble self.

Yet few of you have achieved a sufficient level of technospiritual evolution (TSE) to reach the lofty place where you may receive such enlightenment. This thought saddens me (and probably you, too). But take heart, for I have decided to make available to the technology-starved masses some of my most brilliant insightsspecifically on the technology events and developments of 2003.

Heres how it will work. Ill mention a technology-related trend or happening from 2003, then I will rate that concept on its level of TSE, just the way those TV and newspaper guys rate movies, but, of course, I will not use mere stars. Instead, I will assign from 1 to 5 “at” signs (@) for each instance. Each @ I assign represents yet another step toward the virtual nirvana that exists at the highest levels of TSE.

A rating of 1 @ will indicate the very lowest level of TSE, perhaps that of a dog (and not a smart dog like a border collie but rather something like the lugubrious, slobbering creature that would inhabit the front porch of Jed Clampetts Ozark mountain shack).

At the other end of the scale, a rating of 5 @s would denote the very zenith of TSE, equivalent to that of, say, Bill Gates or a typical 15-year-old.

With that understood, let us proceed.

2003 Insurance Technology Product Introductions: @@@@

For the sheer number of product introductions this year, technology vendors in insurance and financial services must be commended. Between the ACORD and IASA trade shows alone, your humble guru counted an incredible 40 new products (mostly software) being announced. No, every product wasnt a world beater, but it was heartening to see that most of them focused on boosting productivity for carriers and/or agents and brokers. That was a sound message and a wise strategy, given a national economy that has been down for some years and is just beginning to recover.

The spate of new products introduced this year also speaks to the technology sectors faith in the insurance and financial services markets. Your guru applauds the enterprising spirit of these vendors and assigns them an appropriately lofty TSE rating.

Demand for Return-on-Investment (ROI) for Technology Products: @@

Now dont get me wrong on this one; theres absolutely nothing wrong with wanting a reasonable return on investment in any product, including technology. The problem is that some buyers have focused so narrowly on this demand that they have excluded purchases that may not return dollars immediately, ignoring the fact that software and systems must be updated to keep an enterprise abreast of the industrys technology pace.

As a result, updates to a companys technology infrastructure, while sorely needed, may not get past the purchasing managers axe, because they dont guarantee ROI within the next year. Yes, the company may get by on legacy systems and applications for another year or 2 (its probably already been 20 years), but the longer one waits to update, the more expensive and more difficult that task becomes.

ROI is not the only reason to buy technology; it may not even be the most important reason.

The Tech Industry Refocuses on Business: @@@@

In his annual address to the tech faithful at Comdex in past years, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates was selling the concept of pervasive computingthat is, computers and software in all parts of our homes, on our persons, and even in the packaging for commercial products. In 2003, however, his focus turned abruptly to software as an enabler of e-commerce and productivity.

This radical shift surprised no one who has considered the beleaguered state of the economy and the even more beleaguered state of the technology industry. Technology was no longer about “gee-whiz” gadgets. Instead, we wanted to know how tech would help us get leaner and more productive.

Indeed, productivity was the key message at this years IBM Global Insurance Executive Conference. Speaker after speaker talked about the ways in which technology can make our industry more efficient and more productive.

My only regret is that the tech industry waited so long to get on this bandwagon. For them it was merely a matter of survival.

Outsourcing Information Technology (IT): @@

In a previous column, Ive discussed several reasons why outsourcing a companys IT functions may not be wise. In addition to obvious language and communications issues, theres the need to somehow impart ones corporate culture to workers who may be halfway around the globe. More importantly, you may be sending your valuable proprietary information to a nation in which intellectual property laws are lax, or nonexistent.

Computerworld recently reported that a state agency in Indiana had canceled a $15.2 million IT services contract with a company that planned to import workers from abroad. The state decided it wanted to provide better opportunities to its own workers.

And theres the key point. If you hire a programmer from another country, a programmer in this country wont have a job. If that seems petty, try asking the multitudes of IT workers in Silicon Valley who are currently out of work.

Thats not to say outsourcing is always a bad idea, particularly if one is outsourcing noncritical business processes. And nothing says you cant outsource to a U.S.-based company.

Sacrificing U.S. tech jobs for a short-term gain hurts us all in the long run. In better economic times, we may all feel differently, but for the moment, caution is advisable.

Well, that was enjoyable. No trend or event achieved TSE nirvana, but then again, no one was compared to Old Duke on The Beverly Hillbillies. Lets do this again next year.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, January 2, 2004. Copyright 2004 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.