Webify: More insurance for IBM's SOA line

What is IBM, which already has it all, getting out of Webify? More clout within the insurance insustry, for one.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

As announced a couple of days ago, IBM is buying Webify Solutions, a provider of Web services and SOA component solutions, mainly in the healthcare and insurance verticals.

What is Webify adding to IBM's immense portfolio of SOA-enabling solutions? IBM already has it all, or the resources to make SOA things happen

There seems to be a lot big fish eating little fish these days. Last week, of course, HP gobbled up Mercury Interactive for $4.5 billion. IBM did not say how much it was buying Webify for, but one can assume that its probably far less than what HP paid for Mercury. (If you roughly estimate the value of a company at $1 million per employee -- a crude estimate, I know -- then Webify with 120 employees may have gone for somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 million, give or take millions -- which is in line lately for pure-play SOA vendors.)

This was just another day at the office, then, for Big Blue, which made about 40 acquisitions in the past three years, including more than $2 billion in purchases last year alone.

But, what exactly is Webify adding to IBM's already immense portfolio of SOA-enabling solutions? It would seem IBM already has it all, or the resources to make SOA things happen.

IBM says it likes Webify's deep penetration into SOA and Web services efforts in specific industries, with particular emphasis on the ACORD efforts going on within the insurance sector.

I've been following the ACORD efforts for a number of years now, and have been impressed with the ability of the industry to rally around a common set of protocols that is enabling enterprise-to-enterprise interaction, particularly between agents and carriers. ACORD also is increasingly being developed as an internal vehicle for system-to-system interaction, the foundation for SOA.

I recently put together a progress report on ACORD for a recent piece in Insurance Networking, posted here.  The prognosis: industry players are enthusiastic about the interoperability ACORD XML will bring, but leading carriers report their overall XML-transaction volume is still relatively low compared with other messaging modes, such as standard proprietary EDI.

A leader in the XML Web services and SOA space has been The Hartford Insurance Cos., which has had comprehensive ACORD standards deployments underway to handle both external links to agents and internal enterprise integration. (I'm not sure if they're a Webify customer.) I had the opportunity in recent months to chat with Hartford executives leading Web services and SOA efforts.

Jim Rogers, director of e-business and technology for The Hartford, noted that about 50 agencies now trade data with The Hartford via ACORD XML. "It enables us to pre-fill information into our systems, so we don't have any keying issues," he said. "It allows us to turn around our middle market proposals to our customers more quickly and with a higher degree of accuracy."

Ben Moreland, vice president of information technology with The Hartford Financial Group, observed in a separate INN article that the adoption of standards for an emerging SOA-based approach gives his company greater agility and independence from vendor lock-in. With standards, he related, making enterprise decisions has gone from the intensity of "playing with a grenade" to "more like playing with a pistol.... I could shoot myself in the foot, but it's not going to stop me from continuing to move forward." He added that "standards are maturing to the point where it's more like dropping a notebook on my foot. I might wince, but it's not going to be disastrous."

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