It's become fairly routine for newspapers and magazines to compile year-end lists that help to recap events and trends during the previous 12 months, and offer a glimpse into the not-so-distant future. It's in this spirit that Insurance Networking News last year launched its "Best of the Newest" poll of insurance technologies, and the follow-up that appears in this issue.Our "Best" survey actually is a list of technology categories that are ranked by a group of industry experts including IT executives at carriers, researchers and consultants. The purpose of the "Best" survey is not to single out a certain vendor's product as being the top technology in its category-although a couple of vendors did call me and ask if we did give out such awards. Instead, the survey is intended to give insurance executives some guidance in planning how to allocate their technology budgets by forecasting which technologies are having the largest impact in the industry.

Of course, it's also an attempt to identify which technologies are "hot" and which are falling out of favor. I'll admit that I was somewhat surprised that Internet-related topics placed in five of the top six categories, with the exception of middleware, which ranks fifth. For the past two years, the e-economy has imploded. The poster child for this meltdown, in my opinion, is the failed merger of America Online and Time Warner. Indeed, there are now rumors circulating that AOL, the acquirer, might be spun off to prevent the ship from sinking.

The Internet may not develop into the sales channel that many insurance experts had predicted, but it certainly is transforming how business is conducted-and that's why it remains the "hottest" technology category. Insurance is a business that is information-intensive, and the Internet is a pipeline carriers are using to share information with consumers, agents, brokers, health care providers and other business partners. Savvy insurance executives are developing new ways to grow their business using this electronic highway, and I believe the best is yet to come.

Two categories that finished in the middle of the pack, fraud detection and artificial intelligence, will move their way up the list in the future. Both technologies have far-reaching applications in the insurance industry and are particularly well-suited to help insurers identify areas to reduce claims expenses. For now, both technologies suffer somewhat from an identity crisis: They're viewed by many as science fiction.

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