Long before the power of bits and bytes helped facilitate the insurance industry's growth, forward-moving companies adhered to disciplines and principles that focused on consistent, repeatable processes that enabled cross-functional groups to work more efficiently. In the 1950s, educators were already teaching these principles, and not much has changed in terms of applying good common sense to core business processes.The advent of technology, however, changed the playing field. With automation came simplicity: Paperless audit trails, straight-through processing, real-time communications, wireless, the list goes on. But few would argue that the simplicity offered by technology has brought with it a paradoxical level of mounting complexity. And, for the insurance industry, that complexity isn't just affected by increased competition; it's saddled with regulatory and reporting requirements that make IT management arduous at best. Simply put: the insurance industry's IT organizations are coming out of the cold room to embrace and share knowledge and expertise-via best practices.

"The use of best practices isn't just in vogue," says Jim Duggan, vice president of research at Gartner [Inc.], a Stamford, Conn.-based research and advisory firm. "It's the rage. In insurance it's particularly critical because IT has become so much of the fabric of the business operations."

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