This year's survey had several new categories: compliance tools, data management tools, decision management & collaboration tools and IT asset management. The results were mixed: data management and decision management/collaboration made impressive debuts (sixth and seventh, respectively), while IT asset management finished last.Here's a sample of comments from survey participants.

Data management: "Data mastery has the potential to improve the productivity and effectiveness of operational knowledge workers as well as analysts," says Matt Josefowicz, manager, insurance group, for Celent Communications Inc., New York. "The key is to focus on solving a specific, identifiable business problem with each data management initiative."

"The ability to exchange/share information with all stakeholders will be the key differentiator among carriers within three to five years," adds David Saul, CIO of Zurich North America, Schaumberg, Ill.

Decision management & collaboration: "If there is enough intelligence in the technologies to easily identify external data sources, these technologies have significant potential," says Cathy Elwood, director, corporate strategy, for Nationwide Insurance Co., Columbus, Ohio.

"Because there will only be increasing amounts of data in the future and there always will be the need to derive as much information from it as possible, the use of these types of tools is crucial," says Jamie Bisker, research director, insurance practice, TowerGroup, Needham, Mass. "Knowledge management should also be considered as a means of gaining and retaining competitive advantage."

Outsourcing: "Some surprising developments can happen in the next few years as the increased adoption of outsourcing plays out," says Susan Cournoyer, principal analyst for Gartner Inc., Stamford, Conn. "Hopefully, there will be few pitfalls-if carriers use due diligence, IT governance and vendor management practices to support this shift in the services environment."

IT asset management: "Finally, statistical analysis is wedded to data to create information," Cournoyer says. "Not a simple process, but it will change the face of IT investments in the next two to three years as insurance companies approach their IT as an integrated portfolio of investments."

Wireless devices: "Ten years from now, we will all be connected all the time with wireless devices," says Ryan Conlon, IT manager for Progressive Insurance, Mayfield Village, Ohio. "Like microwave ovens and CDs, we won't really remember when they didn't exist. This will make life very different."

"Still waiting for that killer application," Zurich NA's Saul adds.

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