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Reeling in the .NET.

For insurers already venturing into the Microsoft .NET world, the reusability and reliability achieved by the platform is paying off in big ways.

Microsoft .NET technology includes components such as Visual Studio.NET--a multilanguage suite of programming tools--and the .NET Framework--the programming model of the .NET environment for building, deploying and running Web-based applications, smart client applications and extensible markup language Web services. This technology recently emerged on the market, and several insurers have built various applications and Web services around it. Microsoft describes its .NET technology as enabling the creation and use of XML-based applications, processes and Web sites as services that share and combine information and functionality with each other by design, on any platform or smart device, to provide tailored solutions for organizations and individuals.

Allstate Corp. recently extended its rive existing policy management systems for access by the company's countrywide network of independent producers using Visual Studio .NET and the Microsoft .NET Framework. In addition to a rapid time-to-market of only seven months, Allstate also credits speed, performance and scalability as some other benefits it's finding from use of .NET technology.

The company took a somewhat unusual approach by also integrating J2EE (Java 2, Enterprise Edition) language through deployment of IBM's WebSphere 4.5. This integration is designed to manage the infrastructure and support Web services to enable development of business applications and existing mainframe applications into its .NET technologies. While .NET and J2EE offer similar features, there are distinct differences between the two platforms, and they afford different applications. For example, .NET allows developers to write in other programming languages and opens up a pathway for non-.NET components by integrating XML and Simple Object Access Protocol--an XML-based messaging framework designed for exchanging formatted data across the Internet--into their messaging.

In addition, Visual Studio .NET resulted in huge gains for Allstate in terms of developer productivity, said Kevin Rice, enterprise architect. "Instead of developers focusing on the plumbing or underpinnings of how to make a piece of information available for the next step, most of the process was handled by the framework and Common Language Runtime," he said. Developers were able to instead concentrate efforts on business logic, he added. Common Language Runtime is an environment that allows other .NET-available languages to take advantage of the .NET Framework.

In 2002, Transamerica Retirement Services rolled out its first Web site using the .NET architecture. Its previous Web infrastructure didn't allow for the service and feature upgrades that were planned, so the company decided to migrate its entire platform to .NET technology. Visual Basic .NET was used for its middle-tier application logic, while ASP.NET and Dynamic HyperText Markup Language, senior vice president, information technology. In addition, .NET technology is helping add dollars to the company's bottom line.

In addition to its speed-to-market and reusability benefits, .NET is opening up a channel to developers in other programming languages through Microsoft's Common Language Runtime. "In the past, we needed to use more complex languages, like Visual C++, to take full advantage of the platform, but with the CLR every language is equally powerful," said Cameron Cosgrove, vice president and chief information officer for Pacific Life Insurance Co's life division. "Visual Basic .NET now has the same power as C# and Visual C++, and it's one of the major benefits we found in moving to .NET." Pacific Life was one of 50 early adopters of Microsoft's .NET technology and has since put several applications, including its Web .site, into production with Visual Basic .NET and the .NET Framework.

Insurers are finding value in .NET's reusability in leveraging an existing code base. "Probably out single biggest success story with .NET is how it enables reusability while at the same time allowing innovation," said Cosgrove. The technology allowed Pacific Life to reuse all the key and core Common Object Model components of its sales-illustration system that it didn't want to rewrite and at the same time allowed the company to innovate using Web services to move the application onto the Internet quickly with minimal new investment.

".NET has scaled up, hot just in terms of performance and manageability, but it's also scaled out in terms of allowing more people to use and reuse components by design," said Cosgrove.

.NET is evolutionary, not revolutionary, said Bill Nelson, vice president for strategic technology initiatives for Fortis Health. .NET plays a vital role at Fortis. "Microsoft did two distinct things with .NET--it converged programming languages onto a common runtime framework, and it's focused around a concept of 'component architecture,' in which users can either reuse or buy particular parts of an application instead of buying an entirely new application."
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Title Annotation:Technology
Author:Chordas, Lori
Publication:Best's Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2003
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