Monday, May 22, 2006

ACORD Conference

I, standards basher, am at the ACORD LOMA Insurance Systems Forum in Las Vegas.

The conference really starts tomorrow. I went to a technology forum run by insurance agents. It was fairly interesting. I have gone to several agencies and watched these people work. As the saying goes, "they don't call them independent agents for nothing". They all do business differently, use different tools (agency management systems (or none at all), aggregators, etc.), yet they want everything integrated and simple. Makes my life fun, what can I say.

At the agency technology forum, the word "standard" was tossed out there quite a bit. I kept muttering to myself, "what version?", "who's extensions"?

I had an interesting conversation with one of our aggregators in the conference hall. An aggregator is used by insurance agencies to do comparative rating. Basically, they just type in an insured's info once and click one button and get back rate quotes from N carriers (think Travelocity with airline tickets). If anyone should be benefiting from the industry standards that we all say have such a high payback with no questions asked, it should definitely be him. Guess what he told me? Every carrier that his system integrates with uses dramatically different XML on the wire. There is no "standard" XML that they send to each carrier.

Now I found that pretty funny.

He did say that it is nice because each carrier's XML has some resemblance, but then conceded, with some prodding, that the whole thing is b.s.

Anyway, I still hold out a slim bit of hope for Acord 2.0, but time will tell.

Don't get me wrong on standards - I think they are fine. I just get miffed when people blindly cite them as a panacea when I know under the hood what is going on isn't standard. I think we might get there someday with Acord XML - it just is going to take a long time IMHO.


James McGovern said...

By now you may have noted certain "deficiencies" within the ACORD spec. How can we work to improve it so that it is internally useful without transforming it at runtime...

fuzzy said...

Hi James,

Thanks for the comment.

I think you can start by not calling Acord a standard. In practice, Acord is used as a guideline, not a standard.

It is a base to start from.

I believe it is important for a company to have a canonical form. Acord is as good as anything to use as a guideline. Best thing for insurance to be sure.

I believe (as do all my peers at my company), that it is best to start with the guideline, lift appropriate structs, and deliberately fork the standard. In practice, this is what everyone I talked to at the conference is doing. Whether they go into it planning to do that or they end up doing that in maintenance, they all end up there.

I plan to post about this in detail next week. I've arrived at a happy place with my relationship to the Acord spec.