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Tech-Industry Heavyweights Tout Web Services for Insurance

At the Insurance Standards Leadership Forum: "Business Strategies for Industry Transformation," held in New York City last week, a panel composed of representatives of IBM, Microsoft and Sun Microsystems, one might have expected to see the fur fly. But on a panel focused on Web services, showed rival companies pleading an uncharacteristic degree of common purpose.

At an industry event panel composed of representatives of IBM, Microsoft and Sun Microsystems, one might have expected to see the fur fly. But the September 18 session, "Web Services-Unlocking the Potential," at Insurance & Technology and ACORD's Insurance Standards Leadership Forum, showed rival companies pleading an uncharacteristic degree of common purpose.

Microsoft's representative, Kevin Kelly, manager, financial services, insisted his firm and the competitors present were in "kind of a 'Peace Corps' moment right now; we are definitely in kind of a love embrace moment right now all along Web services."

Web services provide a standardized approach for publishing and accessing services, enabling companies to use internal and external networks to get at defined sets of services, according Rick Hoehne, program manager, eInfrastructure, global financial services, IBM. Hoehne asserted that in straitened economic times Web services can provide a means of building flexible, innovative solutions without having to invest as heavily as with other technology developments. However, he cautioned that "standards are essential if that opportunity is going to happen. Web services have to be accessed consistently, regardless of the technology that creates them," he said. "While we may compete and debate the way in which we should build solutions, I believe that we on the panel agree about how you should access them, and that agreement is essential in how we're going to move forward into an e-business world."

Sun Microsystems' speaker, Jim Del Rossi, practice manager, new solutions, cited analyst consensus to the effect that "even though it's very early on in Web services, and there is a certain amount of contention in the industry, get involved now, if only in a small way-try to prototype, try to get things happening and get the reality occurring."

Insurers face challenges in taking advantage of the Web services opportunity, as they follow industry trends of aggregating information and targeting its delivery to the right audience, according to Del Rossi. "One of the changes that's occurring in the insurance industry is that you're taking a lot of systems that are back-end enabled, trying to turn them into line of business systems, expose them out into the real world," which signifies a shift in how both systems and IT teams work," he said. "Sun is interested in helping you go from an IT-type system and turn it into a available, scalable and secure product delivery system-which is something that's going to be key as you are delivering Web services."

Microsoft's Kelly asserted that some companies' belief that the Internet-as a global dumb-terminal network with a thin-client only platform-was all that was needed, was erroneous. As revolutionary as the Internet and World Wide Web were, "no one will tell you that the basic standards that created the Web-TCP/IP, http, HTML-were enough to build the rich applications that were e-commerce," he said. The Internet works well for people sharing information, Kelly argued, but a "second worldwide revolution" needed to occur concerning the value of business applications using the Internet, rather than people.

"Web services is an application-to-application arena based around standards that are now being shared by companies, so the local battles between rival firms are diminishing," Kelly asserted. "The fights over if you build something in an IBM architecture that it somehow precludes Sun or Microsoft technology to interoperate are dissolving away through the continued development of Web services standards."

Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek Financial Services of TechWeb he has written on all areas of information ... View Full Bio

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