In the 1970s and 80s, in an effort to promote electronic interface, insurance companies supplied proprietary workstations by the thousands to their independent agents. Like the return of a bad movie, in the last decade we saw company Web sites. Both had value to the company but offered relatively little to the agency from a workflow standpoint.
Several agency-company “interface” solutions have even been deployed on these models, such as screen scrapers or scripting systems. While these non-standard technologies initially were easy, they werent sustainable.
The initial real-time standards focus was on policy rating. In 2000, a completely new type of transaction was introduced to retrieve data and documents from company databases and/or their Web sites. This included billing, claims and policy status inquiry. Meanwhile, real-time communication was emerging at the same time that carriers were figuring out how to publish this inquiry externally. The two just came together at the right time.
How did real-time inquiry get started? Almost as an afterthought, a technology company and a carrier collaborated on a transaction that simply allowed the agent to retrieve one of these files directly from the company in real-time. A quick XML transaction was built, following existing ACORD XML designs, and the initial inquiry transaction was born.
What started as an afterthought quickly became the “killer app” that encouraged agencies to start using the new real-time interfaces at staggering adoption rates. Agent adoption was slow in 2001-02, but within the past 18 months, there have been more agency-company partnerships established for real-time communication than there have been for batch upload in the past 18 years.
In the end, while many people built proprietary technologies around inquiry transactions, including Web site screen-scrapers and Web site scripters, the initial XML-based inquiry transaction quickly became an ACORD standard and currently represents 4,000-to-5,000 transactions per day.
Now Web service standards are emerging for the end-to-end processing chain. Carrier IT departments are embracing external messages and extending internal systems. Disparate applications running on different operating systems are beginning to communicate. Early wins involve tweaking Web services and XML into highly reliable processing solutions.
One of the largest assets within most insurance companies, outside of its people, is the information system created to process and manage corporate information. For the past 30 years, insurance companies have been trying to figure out how to effectively extend those assets into the hands (and keystrokes) of their partner agencies. For many companies, 2004 will be the breakout year that will extend their internal systems into hands, keystrokes and databases of their partner agenciesand it will be the XML-based Web services movement that will make it happen.