I was speaking with an IT executive recently about service-oriented architectures (SOA), and while he understood the grand vision of what SOA could bring to his company, he claimed it wasn't ready for "prime time." Probing a bit further, he told me it must not be ready because almost every vendor and consultant he spoke with painted a rosy picture of enterprise business value and then immediately did the "old bait and switch" and launched into a discussion of infrastructure "plumbing," with little connection to that vision.SOA promises insurers the ability to weave new systems and legacy applications together to support enterprise business processes across business units, product lines and country borders. Business process management (BPM) tools and business process execution language (BEPL) enable insurers to define business processes composed of Web services from new and legacy applications with minimal programming.

There is confusion about SOA and Web services in the insurance industry today. It is easy to become enrapt in the vision of flexible and efficient enterprise business processes flowing serenely across an SOA built around the latest insurance application or middleware solution. Unfortunately, insurers seeking that vision must deal with legacy application services enablement, defining high-level business process flow, negotiating service levels for Web services and support for mission-critical distributed services monitoring.

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