Insurance Networking News recently interviewed Steven Hauck, co-founder and president of AgencyPort Insurance Services Inc., a Boston-based provider of Web-based agency portal and agency interface software for P&C companies. Hauck's experience with Web-based standards includes nine years in a variety of financial services sales and marketing management positions with The E*Trade organization, New York. Hauck has been active in the insurance industry since founding AgencyPort in 2000.INN: What are the benefits to carriers of incorporating ACORD XML standards into agency-facing Web technology?
HAUCK: The benefit is improved workflow for both agents and carriers. Carriers that adopt ACORD XML are able to speak "the language" of the agency systems, providing real-time services that allow agents to move data from their agent's agency management systems into the carrier's environment.
With the push of a button from the agency management system, an agent can quickly and easily send policy data to the carrier's Web system, obtain quotes and bind business. This Web-enabled process reduces re-keying of data in the Web system for the agent and completely eliminates the keying that internal staff at the carrier must perform when ACORD applications are faxed. This real-time exchange expedites the quote generation process for both parties and streamlines policy processing by reducing errors and costs associated with traditional phone, paper and fax processes.
As more companies attempt to use the Web to streamline data capture and the underwriting process, integration with vendor partners or third-party data providers will become a critical component of success. Carriers that adopt the ACORD XML standard will strategically position their enterprise for current and future integration requirements with trading partners as adoption of the standard becomes more widespread.
INN: What types of issues and costs can early adopters expect to face as they embrace this type of technology?
HAUCK: Unfortunately, integration is never "free." ACORD XML, while a standard, is a voluminous "data dictionary" and, as with any technical standard, can be interpreted differently by each consumer of the standard. As a result, agents, partners and carriers can each end up with slightly different versions of ACORD XML data. In order to leverage ACORD XML and communicate electronically with agents and partners, a carrier must have the ability to perform a gap analysis of the different interpretations and map the data elements to create a rationalized data schema. While this mapping of ACORD XML to ACORD XML is much less expensive than if the carrier was working with proprietary data formats, it still requires work. However, two entities with two different interpretations or versions of the ACORD XML standard are much better positioned for success than those whose data resides in vastly different formats.
In terms of investment needed by carriers, given the size and complexity of ACORD XML, resources must be trained and dedicated to ramping up their knowledge of the data schema. Additionally, carriers will need to financially invest in mapping their internal legacy databases to the ACORD XML data schema in order to use the information in their policy administration systems and other legacy systems.
INN: What type of foundation (architecture) should carriers employ to enable use of ACORD XML?
HAUCK: If carriers have not yet adopted a services-oriented architecture (SOA) for interfacing with their various external (or internal) applications, implementing ACORD XML can be a good place to start. Since XML is the basis of any SOA, ACORD XML can be utilized as messaging standard for P&C companies looking to build Web-based services. While it may be tempting for internal IT teams to adopt a proprietary XML structure for their system-to-system messaging standard, the long-term impact is that it will cost more and take longer to integrate with external entities in the industry.
In addition to a strong SOA, the carrier needs a flexible mapping infrastructure to map ACORD data to target legacy formats and handle any normalization needed across the different versions of ACORD XML it receives.
INN: What does the future hold for carriers that use ACORD XML standards to better communicate with their agents?
HAUCK: In the future, innovative carriers will leverage the ACORD XML data standard to provide agents with personalized experiences over the Web. For example, if an agent frequently sells the same types of policies, it is conceivable that he/she will be able to create a template set of coverages and deductibles that match the local risk profile and apply it to all similar submissions, further speeding up quoting and binding. This type of capability will only be possible for carriers who implement and follow the ACORD XML standard.
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