Tech Chiefs Take on Standards, iPad, Light Bulb at Surplus Lines Conference

By | October 13, 2011

Thomas Alva Edison would have been glowing had he been at the “Technology Issues in the U.S. & U.K.” panel discussion at the annual National Association of Surplus Lines Offices (NAPSLO) conference in San Diego on Wednesday.

The panel was moderated by Mike Ardis, NAPSLO’s director of communications and technology, and on it sat some of the top technology officers in the industry.

Interwoven throughout an extensive, and extremely high-tech, conversation on subjects like standards, XML and the iPad, there were quite a few thoughts on the electric plug, electrical outlets and the light bulb.

Frank Neugebauer, chief information officer for Farmington Hills, Mich.-based wholesale brokerage Burns & Wilcox, was the first to draw on subjects that were dear to the likes of Edison with analogies to the commercial use of electricity and the light bulb, noting that most people don’t think about how one works.

But everyone needs light. And making possible the illumination from the light bulb, and its connection to a cord, and the connection of that cord to an electrical outlet, are standards, he said.

“At the end of the day standards enable these things,” said Neugebauer, who was previously chief technology officer at ACORD Corp., where he was responsible for streamlining the development of ACORD’s insurance form standards.

From that point, Neugebauer and his fellow panelists focused a great deal of their conversation on standards and data exchange through extensible markup language (XML), praising programs like the Reinsurance Large Commercial Standard in London, and a number of other programs in the U.S. and abroad, for efforts that they believe will lead to more streamlined data transfer in the future.

Mike Roy, chief information officer with Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Risk Placement Services, said the technology talk in the insurance industry in the last seven or so years has gone from a focus on networking and infrastructure to a focus on data and data exchange.

“This is where everybody seems to be focusing their energy, their attention,” Roy said.

“Streamlining” was another keyword, and the panelists used it while referring to what they called the “war on keystrokes,” and panelist Peter Montanaro, head of delegated authorities for Lloyd’s of London, offered a British take on that front.

“Americans call it the war on keystrokes,” Montanaro said. In the U.K, and at specifically at Lloyd’s, he added, “the vision is to have the capability to deliver straight-through processing.”

Referring to Lloyd’s plan for the next few years, he said: “Standards are important to Lloyd’s because the strapline on our three-year plan is to make doing business with Lloyd’s easier.”

But the challenge in the market is not just coming up with technology standards, but also getting the myriad companies, groups and individuals to buy in, and sign on, to those standards, he said.

“The market is a challenge,” Montanaro said. “People say that getting the Lloyd’s market to agree on things is like trying to herd cats. That’s very unfair—to cats.”

At one point the panelists got into a debate about the future of the iPad, and how new hardware technologies may change how business is being done.

Neugebauer dismissed Apple Computer’s touch-screen phenom as a trend, and said that if history is any indication, “people won’t be talking about the iPad in 18 months.”

But Montanaro defended Apple’s hottest product.

He said Lloyd’s recently had a program to give away 35 iPads to brokers and to see what they used them for. Most of them used them for business, and have continued using them, he said.

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