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Microsoft Woos Insurance Business

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Las Vegas

Software giant Microsoft Corp. began taking some giant steps toward deeper involvement in the insurance industry with several major announcements at the ACORD LOMA Insurance Systems Forum here designed to help promote its platform and products in this industry and to undercut arch-rival IBM.

During the conference, held here last month, Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft brought out several of its insurance industry executives and gathered media in its lush Las Vegas suite to spread the word that it is committed to the insurance business.

Why insurance? “Its been the most profitable vertical for IBM,” said Dennis M. Maroney, managing director, insurance industry, Financial Services Group, for Microsoft. “It makes sense for us to move in, [too].”

Taking a swipe at mainframe provider and Microsoft rival IBM, Bruce Burns, director-Technical Diplomacy Platform Strategy & Partner Group for Microsoft, claimed insurance companies can save “about 50% of their IT costs” after migrating from their legacy mainframe systems to Microsoft’s Windows server environment. Asked what that migration might cost, however, he did not provide an estimate.

Instead, the Microsoft executives emphasized what they said is the “choice, flexibility and agility” offered by products from Microsoft and its partners, versus what is available from IBM and its WebSphere platform.

In a related announcement, Microsoft and Micro Focus International Ltd. of Sunnyvale, Calif. said they have created “a new alliance to enable the migration of critical proprietary mainframe systems onto the Microsoft Windows operating system using .NET technology.” According to the companies, the alliance provides a technology foundation for users to move workloads from the mainframe to “more modern Intel architecture and the Windows Server platform.”

Microsoft also previewed its Microsoft Office Solution Accelerator for Insurance Forms. The software maker said the product is “designed to help insurance industry customers cut processing time and costs, and reduce errors associated with data re-entry.” It does this by tying standard ACORD forms with XML Web services, making those forms available to participants in any ACORD forms program via Microsoft Office InfoPath 2003, the company’s information-gathering program.

According to Bill Hartnett, general manager of Financial Services Solutions at Microsoft, the Accelerator “leverages the more than 30 years the insurance industry has invested in ACORDs form and data standards, allowing insurance professionals to spend less time focusing on technology and more time where it countswith the customer.”

The full release of the Accelerator will come with the release of the Microsoft Office 2003 Editions Service Pack 1 in July, the company said.

Microsoft also announced a collaborative effort with ACORD “to help the insurance industry put in place and maintain security-enhanced environments for business operations.” The announcement comes after Microsoft founder Bill Gates’ remarks last fall at the Comdex computer industry conference that, “Microsoft’s most acute focus is security. It’s the largest thing we’re doing.”

The collaboration will involve developing “joint task forces on key areas in the insurance industry,” said Microsoft. These include agent and company workstation security, patch management, identity management, and business compliance. The task forces will produce guidelines and best practices, which will be made available to ACORD members through its Web site. Microsoft said it will also provide “prescriptive architectures for patch and identity management to ACORD for member distribution.”

Meanwhile, Itemfield, a provider of data transformation software, announced that it is working with IBM on its Open Path to ACORD initiative. The initiative “provides insurance companies with an open, flexible, standards-based and evolutionary approach to the adoption and integration of ACORD XML, while continuing to leverage and preserve heritage standards and previous technology investments.”

According to Cindy Maike, market segment manager, Insurance, for IBM Software Group, based in Kansas City, Mo., “There are a lot of legacy customers that have our mainframe and other technologies. It’s important to meet their business needs.”

Maike pointed out that insurers have made “a significant investment” in their mainframe systems, and “that isnt going away.” She added that a “rip and replace” strategy won’t work in the insurance industry and that IBM is instead looking for ways it can help insurers leverage their mainframe investments.

San Mateo, Calif.-based Itemfield said IBM had selected its ContentMaster software as an enabling technology for the initiative because it transforms key insurance industry standards, including ACORD AL3, ACORD XML, HIPAA, HL7 and EDI. “By automating the transformation of data between ACORD XML and other formats, Itemfield ContentMaster streamlines the standards adoption process, while reducing the total cost of ownership of IBM infrastructure software-hosted solutions for insurance companies,” the company explained.

Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, June 11, 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.