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A recent report from industry analyst Gartner has confirmed what many vendors have been saying for years: XML is the wave of the future. Gartner predicts that by 2008, half of enterprises in the U.S. and Europe will be using XML-aware applications to create their business content. By 2010, native XML-aware database management technology will be the foundation of enterprise content management (ECM) offerings. Indeed, many organizations today are already using XML to improve their business processes. So what are the strengths of XML, and how can your company take advantage of them?

One of the key benefits of XML is speed. As a data description standard, XML can describe any kind of data and communicate it to any database, storage repository or application. It’s also a key component of web services, allowing organizations to quickly connect their back-end application with a web portal. By using XML, a company can create a customer web site which, for example, allows for online insurance quotes or connects insurance agents to a carrier.

But XML is not just for web services anymore. At the level of core operations, XML allows organizations to quickly make changes to their existing IT infrastructure, without the lengthy, risky and expensive process of replacing all their legacy systems.

Many organizations, especially in the insurance and financial services sector, have core systems which were built 30 or more years ago. Many of these systems are still pretty good at what they do—for example, policy or claims administration. The problem is that they are silos of information, unable to share data with other systems across the enterprise. Until recently, extracting data from these systems would have required reprogramming them, which in turn required a deep understanding of the database and its schema. In some cases, there is no one left in the company who possesses this knowledge. Manuals have been lost or misplaced, and the people who originally built the system have retired or moved on to other jobs.

Because of issues like this, many insurance companies are grappling with whether to rip out their legacy systems and replace them. The problem with this approach is that it usually takes a long time and is very expensive. It’s also risky, as it involves replacing a tried-and-true system with something unknown and untested.

Fortunately, there is still a way to access information from legacy systems. One thing they can all do is print. There are applications on the market today which can intercept this print stream. The data can then be converted from its original format (AFP, PostScript, MetaCode, etc.) into XML format. Once converted, the data can be formatted into an easily readable document, table or report, and then shared across the enterprise.


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