To meet the challenges of today's digital age, many carriers and their CIOs seek to build greater transparency into their technology plans and requirements, plotting a well-vetted course and design for all future acquisition and standardization plans. This relatively new approach, known as enterprise architecture (EA), has already delivered impressive results to the bottom line for some insurers.

To think of how EA works, think of a well-planned city: There is basic common infrastructure that supports the entire community, and guidelines and standards for new projects or construction. "When somebody wants to do something different, they have to apply to an architecture review board," says Heather Smith, senior research associate with Queen's University School of Business and active member with the Advanced Practices Council of the Society for Information Management. "Everyone has to fall in line with a particular technology, so they're not being given 'carte blanche' to everybody to go off and do what they want."

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