Either I've been involved in insurance just long enough or there really are exciting things happening in the industry. Granted, I'm not the average insurance professional with 20-plus-years' experience, but just over the past five of my eight years covering the industry, I've seen great progress in innovation and business and IT alignment, and I have big hopes for the next couple years.

Proof of progress: More than 70 percent of insurers will increase spending on IT projects into 2015, according to "IT Budget and Spending Realities and Trends in the North American P&C Insurance Industry," a report released in November by Strategy Meets Action. And, 15 percent of those surveyed said additional spending for IT-related projects would exceed 10 percent of the total IT budget; another 5 percent said they expect outside expenditures to exceed 50 percent of budgeted IT spending.

Deb Smallwood, Strategy Meets Action founder and author of the report, attributes the increases to better business and IT alignment. According to the research, 51 percent of those surveyed said they were "becoming aligned," 45 percent said they were "aligned" and 4 percent said they are "not aligned." Among personal lines carriers, 39 percent were becoming aligned, 55 percent aligned and 6 percent were not aligned.

Among commercial lines carriers, 54 percent were becoming aligned, 44 percent aligned and 2 percent were not aligned.

"Project management is better, governance is better and there is more business participation, executive sponsorship, sophistication and experience," Smallwood says. "There is more trust that IT is delivering and business is participating."

This is the fourth year for our Top 5 Trends coverage. A couple of the trends we've identified for 2014 are business-driving ones we wouldn't even have considered last year, proving the industry is moving into new territory, a territory filled with consumer preferences, the latest and greatest mainstream technology and fresh and innovative human mind-power. Onward and forward; let's go.

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