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Microsoft Updates Insurance Value Chain Framework

ACORD XML standards guide Microsoft's effort to improve data exchange between insurance companies and third parties.

In a bid to improve interchangeability of data between insurance companies and various third parties, Microsoft has updated the content of its Insurance Value Chain (IVC) initiative and late last month announced support for the industry-specific standards organization ACORD.

Developers can download the new content from MSDN. It includes common workflow scenarios for origination of new policies and a new white paper that outlines Microsoft's IVC, including its technical and architectural agenda.

The documentation is geared toward architects and developers looking to create service-oriented architectures with the aim of providing integrated software components around common insurance industry business processes. The latest updates augment Microsoft's Insurance Value Chain Architecture Framework (IVCAF) 1.0, which was launched last year.

IVCAF is designed to guide developers through the development of various insurance-industry solutions enabling cross-enterprise business processes such as workflows and straight-through processing, using standards agreed upon by ACORD. Core to this is the ACORD XML standard, says Dan Woodman, Microsoft's technology strategist for the U.S. insurance industry.

"Everybody participating has agreed that those are pretty good standards and using them appropriately is the right way to go," Woodman says. "Because you have standardized messaging, it abstracts a lot of problems away."

Bob Juracka, president of Brea, Calif.-based XDimensional Technologies Inc., which provides hosted services that link independent insurance agents to carriers' systems, welcomes Microsoft's embrace of ACORD XML.

"It's very important that Microsoft embraced as they did the ACORD standard because without it, you'd be coming at a carrier with too many variables in the puzzle, too many new components and it would scare them off," Juracka says.

Woodman says the insurance industry has had a more unified approach to standardization than other verticals. "In other segments the fact that you have either fragmented standards bodies, or worse, competing standards bodies, things are a little more complicated," he says. The framework specifies industry standards such as SOAP and WSDL to define both messages and message endpoints that can be expressed regardless of the underlying software technology, he adds.

"The big focus for companies today is to realize process efficiencies by breaking down the communication barriers, and moving to more streamlined processes," Woodman says. "By taking the different partners who combined make a complete workflow for the life of a policy and pre-integrating those applications, using standards-based messages and endpoints-basically Web services and XML standard messages-we're giving IT shops the ability to buy suites of applications that have already been tested and developed together in an integrated way."

For developers using Microsoft's Visual Studio, Microsoft's new content is intended at taking a selective approach to application modernization. Hence, if a company were to replace an underwriting system, it still has to work with existing policy administration systems, Woodman says.

Woodman points out that while the framework is targeted at those using Visual Studio, "there's nothing about the Web services that these partners have created that is partner-specific," he says. "In fact, we've done an integration where we've tied a .NET-based billing and compensation system to a mainframe and Java-based policy admin system."

The group has tested integrations with Host Integration Server, allowing for communications directly into mainframe applications. The group has also tested with Microsoft's BizTalk and has conducted direct Java integration.

The best is yet to come, Woodman says, with Visual Studio 2008. now in its first round of beta tests. "Right now the technology base we're building on is .NET 3.0, so this will all be [Windows Communication Foundation]-based," Woodman says. "In terms of having the tooling released, the simple truth is this is a little unusual for Microsoft. We normally don't do things that are industry-specific this way, so we've got an internal challenge in terms of figuring out what is [the] right delivery vehicle and what is the right long-term support mechanism, particularly for the insurance industry, which has high demands around long-term support. Right now we're still answering those questions."

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

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