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A BRIEF HISTORY OF AUTOMATION: The Past, Present and Future of the Industry By Stefani Mingo | May 15, 2000
In 1981, IBM introduced its personal computer (PC) for use in the home, office and schools. Prior to that time, there had been several MS-DOS compatible personal computers that ran DOS programs. As computers became more widespread in the workplace (ie. an independent agent’s office), new ways to unleash their potential developed. As smaller computers became more powerful, they could be linked together, or networked, to share memory space, software and information, and communicate with each other.
So where does the insurance industry enter the “automation” picture?
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Independent agents have come a long way in using technology over the past 20 years. From the early 1980s through the mid-1990s, independent agents for the most part used PC-based automation systems to boost efficiency and cut costs.
Since 1970, ACORD, a not-for-profit standards-setting association for the insurance industry, has been involved in automation. The association is comprised of carriers, agents, vendors, solution providers, associations and other interested parties. “We aren’t the ones who ‘built’ the automation system,” said Carolyn “Cal” Durland, managing director of Standards for ACORD. “What we did and still do is provide standards-Forms and Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) upon which the vendors or solution providers base their automation systems.” She explained that to find out how the industry became automated, one must look to the vendors and solution providers.
In 1972, the first ACORD form, a property loss notice, went into use. Today, ACORD’s standards include Forms, AL3 (Automation Level 3), XML, OLife and ObjX. The Forms are point of sale, data collection vehicles, AL3 is ACORD’s EDI standard (or machine-to-machine, business-to-business, data transmission formats or components), OLife is a data integration standard and ObjX is “much more than EDI.”
In the 1980s-when the number of PCs in use increased dramatically-ACORD members asked for standardized electronic transmissions between the agents’ computers and the carriers’ computers.
“The industry has come to ACORD to consolidate efforts to eliminate duplication of work,” Durland said. “For example, without one approved, countrywide ACORD application, all of the 2,400-plus insurance carriers would have to have their own form. And the vendors or solution providers who automate those forms would have to customize each form.”
Now that ACORD and the industry are working hand-in-hand, there is one form accepted and used by many of those carriers. In addition, the vendors or solution providers have the option to become licensed by ACORD to redistribute the Forms. “ACORD provides them with tools…to print the ACORD Forms,” Durland said. “ACORD’s Forms efforts have stripped the costs out of this distribution channel.”
According to Durland, in the same manner that the industry came together with ACORD to do Forms, they have also worked to develop EDI Standards. “Through our subcommittee process and strict compliance to anti-trust guidelines, we bring together carriers, agents, vendors, solution providers and other interested parties to discuss what is needed to transmit the data collected,” she said.
Change is good
The industry on the whole, according to Durland, is slow to make changes, “although there are some carriers that...