Redmond, Wash. – Regardless of a technology’s promise, it doesn’t take much for the risk-averse insurance industry to let early adopters from other industries take all the slings and arrows—at least until the solution is proven.

To some extent, such has been the case with Microsoft’s Vista, which celebrated its one-year anniversary last week. After years of talk about the additional benefits to the enterprise of using Vista, Microsoft released the system to businesses on Nov. 30, 2006. And although Microsoft counts several insurers among its current Vista customers, the popular press is now reporting that the industry at large seems to be taking a “wait and see” position.

Microsoft, meanwhile, is taking active steps to quell rumors about hackers and network security affecting the new operating system. For example, the company admitted this week that it would stop issuing “kill switch” triggers that disable programs on users' computers if it suspects the software is pirated. Instead, Microsoft will add an automated “alert” to such issues (Microsoft claims that the piracy rate for Windows Vista is less than half that of Windows XP). INN believes this applies more to the personal consumer world, but security is an issue for any user.

It also will roll out a new version of Windows Genuine Advantage—Microsoft’s anti-piracy system that enforces Windows online validation of the authenticity of Microsoft operating systems when accessing Windows services—with the first "service pack" for Windows Vista, due in the first quarter of 2008.

For all the concerns, there are features worth touting, such as wireless network support and other troubleshooting features, available now to XP users only with third-party software.

Many of those insurers who agreed to test beta versions of Vista were based in Europe, but in North America, Newport Beach, Calif.-based Pacific Life Insurance Co., as reported in Insurance Networking News in May, 2007, deployed Vista to secure its 500 networked PCs. The carrier found the security features inherent in the new system worthwhile. According to a Pacific Life spokesperson, when the need to install arises, the user is prompted for administrative credentials and directed to call the help desk. The help desk can use Microsoft's Remote Assistance to access the user's computer, install the application, make sure it's running correctly and then disconnect.

Other security features inherent in Vista are designed to enable users to monitor entry to restricted resources and records, which helps ensure security and meet compliance requirements while containing cost. Additionally, improvements to strong authentication, via smartcards and new platform capabilities, allow third parties to adopt authentication methods.

Philadelphia-based ACE USA, joined Pacific Life in its decision to be an early adopter, deploying a pre-release version of Vista this year. A 5,400-person insurance firm that provides property/casualty, accident and health coverage, the company hopes that deployment of both Vista and 2007 Office will enhance portable computer security, lower IT support costs, simplify forms use, reduce e-mail volumes and improve collaboration for its increasingly mobile workforce.

Nevertheless, Chad Hersh, senior analyst with the insurance practice at Boston-based Celent LLC, advises insurers not to make snap judgments. "Until Vista is widely deployed and undergoes trial by fire, it's premature to judge how well its security features will hold up in the real world." Hersh believes that other issues, such as migration and wide-scale peripheral upgrades, may cause insurers to join the ranks of companies taking a “wait and see&am ;am ;am ;am ;rd uo; approach to using Vista as an enterprise system.

Away from security, “Greenfield deployments will benefit from Windows Vista’s integrated WLAN features,” notes Gartner Group, Stamford Conn. Analysts also tout the system’s enhanced search capabilities.

In May, Microsoft’s GM of insurance solutions Bill Hartnett told the popular press that carriers that choose now to take advantage of the company’s rollout of its 2007 Office system, Vista and Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 will benefit in a variety of ways.

“In one of the most paper-driven industries in the world, the new 2007 Office System greatly assists in migrating to paperless forms workflows via XML forms embedded in 2007 Office programs and via InfoPath,” Hartnett told Microsoft’s PressPass. “In addition, agents and employees at insurance firms can benefit from the features of SharePoint Server 2007, particularly in an Advisor Platform-type implementation, to obtain a single point of truth of customers, their policies, claims, etc. all in one place, allowing more time to interface with customers themselves, up-sell, cross-sell and prospect.”

Those carriers that continue to wait may ultimately decide to be early adopters of Microsoft’s Windows 2010, which is reported to include all of Vista’s features and more.

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