In many businesses, the key to success often lies in a firm's ability to diversify. What PWC Consulting has accomplished through its iFS Solutions and Virtual Insurance Community (VIC) initiative testifies to the growing trend that sees e-business consultants spreading their wings to become more well-rounded entities.Large e-business consulting firms that once only dabbled in basic consulting services for the insurance industry are now adding systems integration expertise to their portfolio, industry observers say.

"PWC has long had domain expertise in insurance, but over the years this expertise has been applied in more of a horizontally driven manner, such as Y2K systems integration and enterprise resource planning. These are projects that cross many industries," says Susan Cournoyer, senior analyst, global industries at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Dataquest. "Now, PWC has leveraged this expertise to industry-specific offerings such as the VIC program. They seem to be emphasizing their vertical skills."

Overall, PWC's recognition of component-based systems architecture is consistent with the trend occurring among many other e-business consulting firms. "Insurance is a hot spot for vertical integration initiatives," Cournoyer explains. "Accenture has a component-based solution for carriers, and in fact has established a standalone division to support the solution. KPMG and MetLife have formed an alliance on a program called Configurative Fit, which is built on component-based IT architecture."

Similar to any component-based IT solution, the more individual components in the solution, the more possible complications that lay in wait. PWC's ability to bring numerous players together under one roof is no small task, Cournoyer explains.

"When you have these many solutions providers on board, some of these partners have a tendency to get wandering eyes and abdicate-or consider abdicating-from the group once the contract terms are up," Cournoyer says. "It's also a case of ego. Is a particular member of the consortium playing a secondary role to others in how their solution is deployed? However, if you can get around the potential politics, initiatives such as VIC appear to be on solid footing."

Carriers would be extremely eager to explore such programs because it involves best-of-breed solutions that are pre-integrated. "When it comes to implementing best-of-breed solutions individually, carriers face a lot of pain points," Cournoyer concludes. "So if a solution comes along that can reduce this pain, that's a real accomplishment."

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