Good, but not good enough. That's not usually what insurers striving for success want to hear. But, it can work in some cases. Take, for example, paper-free operations. Completely paperless processes may not always be possible, but many insurers are inching toward eliminating paper with each small step they take. Some insurers start in the claims department; some start in the underwriting department; some start by eliminating paper sales and marketing materials. But most know it can't all be done at once. "Carriers have already done a pretty good job of getting rid of the internal paper process," says Jeff Goldberg, senior analyst in the insurance practice of Boston-based Celent. "The days when companies would print out documents to store are fewer." Now, though, the challenge may be convincing outside parties to adapt to paperless activities. "Even companies that have significant investment in online applications still have paper coming in the front door," he says.

The insurance industry has a long history of paper use, but paperless is possible. "In terms of processing transactions, they certainly can be done without paper," says Phil Hargrove, insurance technology adviser at Conyers, Ga.-based ImageRight Inc. "Straight-through processing is still in its infancy, which means there are still paper documents. But once those are entered into an imaging process and can be converted to electronic, you're not dependent on paper."

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