A joint announcement from Microsoft and the Association for Cooperative Operations Research and Development (ACORD) describes an effort to create a forms service linking standardized insurance forms to XML Web services. The new information-gathering application based upon InfoPath "will enable insurance agencies to fill out electronic forms once and then link the data with the click of a button to other forms, databases, back-end systems and applications via XML Web Services. Aimed at helping the insurance industry reduce the overhead associated with complex transaction processing and the errors that result from having to re-key data several times, the forms service is expected to standardize the way forms relate to industry-specific XML data standards such as ACORD's, and how the data itself is delivered. InfoPath utilizes XML and XML-based Web services to enable insurance agencies to complete forms once and then link the data to other forms, databases, back-end systems and applications. As part of the forms service, Microsoft .NET Web services can be used to provide additional functionalities, including e-mail, printing and data-routing." A related announcement highlights Microsoft's support of UNeDocs through InfoPath, using a smart client for on-line and off-line processing of XML forms.
From the Announcement and Interview with Josh Lee
The ability for insurance agents and brokers to use InfoPath-based forms is expected to help the insurance industry reduce the processing time and cost of completing insurance transactions, while reducing errors associated with re-entering data multiple times. It also will unify and standardize the way forms are delivered and relate to Extensive Markup Language (XML) standards such as that of ACORD's, which is the most commonly used standard in the insurance industry today.
Availability of current ACORD Forms is essential for agents and brokers. This technology will deliver and update ACORD Forms quickly and encourage the development of Web services around ACORD Forms," said Gregory Maciag, CEO of ACORD. "We've embraced XML as a key standard in insurance transaction processing, and Microsoft's InfoPath tool will increase productivity and efficiency for ACORD participants."
InfoPath will be available as part of Microsoft's most popular Office suite for businesses, Microsoft Office 2003 Professional Enterprise Edition, with standalone versions available via retail outlets, volume licensing and OEM channels. Pricing is still to be determined.
[Lee:] "Microsoft and ACORD are working to map all of ACORD's standardized forms to XML-based Web services. Because InfoPath is built from the ground up to understand XML and natively supports XML Web services, insurance information workers entering data into an InfoPath form will be able to process applications on or offline, using the same text-editing features you find in a program like Microsoft Word, and then upload them to a Web service for processing. The Web service, in turn, will be able to extract and route the data so that it can be used over and over again. If workers need paper forms, they can direct the Web service to export the data to a Word file or a document format like Adobe PDF for printing, faxing or archival."
[Lee:] "We hope the work we're doing with ACORD sends a strong message to insurance carriers, brokerages, and agents that Microsoft is committed to solving some of their biggest business challenges, which include workflow inefficiency, data redundancy and errors. Microsoft has been working hard to increase the relevance and value of its products to vertical industries, and announcements like this one are direct evidence that we're totally committed to increasing support for industry workflow and standards."
[Lee:] "Of course the first organization within the insurance industry to turn to accomplish this goal was the Association for Cooperative Operations Research and Development, which is a nonprofit membership organization aimed at developing data standards for the insurance industry. Since 1970, ACORD has been very involved in standardizing the way insurance businesses run, from when a potential customer walks into an insurance office, all the way through to claims and the way that transactions are communicated back and forth among major carriers, brokerages, agents, and so on. Initially the organization focused on standardizing insurance forms, and then moved on to pass data standards for insurance transaction processing. Lately ACORD has been very focused on developing industry-specific XML data standards and has joined the WS-I, a technology industry consortium focused on the adoption and acceleration of Web services. So they're natural partners for us on this initiative."
Zdenek Jiricek (Public Sector Manager, Microsoft Eastern Europe) gave a presentation on UNeDocs and InfoPath at the May  2003 UNeDocs Seminar on electronic trade documents, held during the United Nations Forum on Trade Facilitation. See the derived PDF: "Microsoft Supporting UNeDocs Through Microsoft Office InfoPath. Smart Client For On-Line And Off-Line Processing of XML Forms." Jiricek identified current problems for trading: "(1) Data entry into various client apps multiple times [different client for different applications; unnecessary re-typing and data entry errors]; (2) Custom forms hard to use, inflexible, costly to maintain [Lacking rich editing experience; Static forms limit ability to provide required information; Difficult to modify existing forms and adjust processes]; (3) Hard to reuse data across business processes [Requires significant development work]... InfoPath benefits for UNeDocs: (1) Gather information more efficiently and accurately [Validation: via scripting or web services; Conditional formatting capabilities; Easy to implement digital signing, e.g., UPU web service]; (2) Manage information more flexibly [On-line, Off-line, and e-mail support; Visual creating / modification of forms; Dynamic forms w/ locking, creating optional fields]; (3) Take advantage of existing IT investments and knowledge [Web based solution deployment, supports any XML schema; Familiar Microsoft Office user experience]; (4) Share information across business processes [Connects to XML Web services; Can connect to multiple biz processes via MS BizTalk Server]... (adapted)
This presentation is referenced by Joris Evers in an InfoWorld article "UN XML Project Gets Microsoft Support. Aims to Make Electronic Exchange of Business Documents Between Companies Cheaper." - "... UNeDocs, or United Nations extensions for aligned electronic trade documents, was started in 2002 by the UN's Economic Commission for Europe. The aim is to use XML to create an electronic equivalent for paper trade documents based on existing EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) standards, according to the UNeDocs Web site. EDI is expensive and use has generally been reserved for large enterprises. XML is going to make electronic exchange of business documents between companies cheaper with tools like InfoPath to support it, said Bobby Moore, product manager for InfoPath at Microsoft. The UN estimates that paper-based trade procedures cost about 10 percent of the value of exchanged goods. In 2000 that would have been 10 percent of $5.5 trillion in international trade, according to the UNeDocs Web site. The UN is drafting the XML electronic trade documents to create documents that can be understood and accepted internationally. Many of the alternatives that have been created by private parties are country or sector-specific, according to the UNeDocs Web site. In addition to the trade documents, the UNeDocs team also created online services for UNeDocs users. One service allows users to get the latest international trade, currency and country codes, for example. Another service converts a UNeDocs XML document into a document that can be viewed through a standard Web Browser. InfoPath is a new Microsoft information gathering application that can save data natively in XML. It is part of Microsoft's Office 2003 suite of productivity applications, which is currently in beta and planned to be commercially available in the second half of the year, Microsoft has said..."
See also from the Microsoft announcement: "The news of ACORD's plan to provide InfoPath-based ACORD Forms falls less than a week after the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and Microsoft demonstrated a prototype for processing electronic trading documents using the beta 2 version of Microsoft Office Project Professional 2003 and InfoPath. The prototype, displayed at the UN's Second International Forum on Trade Facilitation in Geneva, supports UNECE's work around XML and enables digital signing of documents via Web services created by the U.S. Postal Service and Canada Post. A technical white paper outlining the benefits of Web services based on the UN's Business Collaboration Framework estimated that, due to the cost of implementation, approximately 98 percent of global Fortune 1,000 companies have embraced electronic data interchange (EDI), compared with 5 percent of other companies. The establishment of a common standard for businesses to trade goods electronically can have a dramatic impact on the costs..."
About Microsoft Office InfoPath 2003
"Microsoft Office InfoPath 2003 is a new Office system application that streamlines the process of gathering information by enabling teams and organizations to easily create and work with rich, dynamic forms. The information collected can be integrated with a broad range of business processes because InfoPath supports customer-defined XML schemas and integrates with XML Web services. The native file format for InfoPath forms is industry-standard XML, which makes it easy for companies to integrate the forms into existing business processes. As a result, InfoPath helps to connect information workers directly to organizational information, giving them the ability to act on it, which leads to greater business impact... InfoPath provides an easy-to-use What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) design mode that lets users design or modify form templates without writing any code. InfoPath includes a set of ready-to-use sample forms that cover typical user scenarios. You can modify any of the sample forms (such as adding new fields to the form) or you can design your own form to suit your needs. To design a new form, you simply insert controls into a blank form. InfoPath automatically creates a schema in the background that you can later modify, if necessary, using the Data Source task pane. If you are starting from an existing schema, you can also add fields to that schema in any open sections... InfoPath was built from the ground up to work natively with XML and support customer-defined schemas that are based on the W3C XML Schema (XSD) standard. With InfoPath, you can design forms based on your own schema. InfoPath will automatically apply data-type and structural validation based on that schema..." [adapted from the online technical FAQ]
"Based in New York, ACORD is a global, nonprofit insurance association whose mission is to facilitate the development and use of standards for the insurance, reinsurance and related financial services industries. With offices in London as well, ACORD accomplishes its mission by remaining an objective, independent advocate for sharing information among diverse platforms. ACORD Standards and services improve efficiency and expand market reach. Affiliated with ACORD are hundreds of insurance and reinsurance companies, and thousands of agents and brokers, related financial services organizations, software providers, and industry organizations worldwide."
- Announcement 2003-05-19: "Microsoft, ACORD Link Insurance Forms to XML Web Services, Helping Agents Enter Data Once and Share Data Across Their Businesses. Microsoft Office InfoPath 2003 to Help Insurance Industry Cut Processing Time and Costs, Reduce Errors."
- Interview with Josh Lee 2003-05-19: "Microsoft and ACORD to Link Insurance Forms to XML Web Services."
- ACORD 2003 Annual Conference
- InfoPath Technical FAQ document
- Microsoft Office InfoPath 2003
- "Microsoft Supporting UNeDocs Through Microsoft Office InfoPath. Smart Client For On-Line And Off-Line Processing of XML Forms." By Zdenek Jiricek (Public Sector Manager, Microsoft Eastern Europe). May 15, 2003. PDF from the 13 slides. From a presentation given at the May 2003 UNeDocs Seminar on electronic trade documents, held during the United Nations Forum on Trade Facilitation. "The Forum welcomed the efforts of the UNECE to develop and implement accessible tools and solutions for administrations and the trade community around the world." Canonical source .PPT, ZIP
- "UN XML Project Gets Microsoft Support. Aims to Make Electronic Exchange of Business Documents Between Companies Cheaper." By Joris Evers. In InfoWorld (May 16, 2003). "A United Nations project that uses XML to give small and medium-size companies an alternative to paper forms when doing business across borders has won support from Microsoft. The Redmond, Wash., software maker at a UN conference in Geneva on Thursday demonstrated how the product of the XML project called UNeDocs would work in Microsoft's InfoPath application..."
- ACORD website
- UNeDocs wbsite
- "ACORD - XML for the Insurance Industry" - Main reference page.
- "Microsoft Office 11 and InfoPath [XDocs]" - Main reference page.