Application Services provides a platform for IT Development and Maintenance professionals to discuss and gain insights into best practices, process innovations and emerging technologies that will shape the future of this profession.

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September 16, 2016

Future of enterprise web applications: Pervasive next-generation JavaScript

Author: Arshad Sarfarz Ariff, Technology Architect

No one would have ever thought that a 10-day project, created at Netscape by Brendan Eich in 1995, would turn out to be the frontrunner for building enterprise web applications after 20 years. Today, JavaScript leads the race for building isomorphic web apps. An isomorphic application is one whose code can run both on the server and on the client. This was primarily made possible by Node.js - an open source, cross-platform JavaScript runtime environment built on Chrome's V8 JavaScript engine, which opened the doors of JavaScript to server-side coding. 

Furthermore, the proliferation of mobile applications as well as the open source movement is pushing enterprises to adopt JavaScript platforms in order to power increasingly modular applications using open source software. Enterprise development shops can no longer depend on Java or .Net to build a technology platform, as the increasing demands for speed and scale of development alongside quicker delivery are challenging the norms. A Forrestor report states that, "Adoption of JavaScript -- and the Node.js runtime environment in particular -- sets the stage for the biggest shift in enterprise application development in more than a decade." However, this transformation can initially be challenging - which is where communities like EnterpriseJS come to the rescue.

With more and more enterprises eager to increase investments in DevOps -- in order to reap benefits like faster delivery, improved customer experience, and better service quality -- it becomes imperative for JavaScript applications to have first-class DevOps support. As frameworks like Grunt and Gulp are already in the limelight, companies like Microsoft have even enabled built-in support for the frameworks in Visual Studio 2015, for building JavaScript applications.

Adoption of JavaScript for enterprise development is further empowered by transpilers like TypeScript and Babel, which evangelize the idea of using object-oriented programming (OOP) in the scripting world. This idea was baptized by ECMA International when they made these features available as part of ES2016, the latest version of JavaScript. ECMA is also currently working on ES.Next, which is touted to be the next-generation JavaScript version.

JavaScript is also making inroads into the hardware world; a fact that is evident from various robotics and Internet of Things (IoT) platforms like Johnny-Five, NodeBots, and Cyclon.js using tools like Tessel, Raspberry, and Arduino that have made the development of robotics and IoT easier and faster.

Any new technology that is disruptive in nature immediately receives support from the JavaScript community. A well-known example of this is ',' an open source, JavaScript-based, client-side, bitcoin wallet generator. This is widely used as the bitcoin address, and the private keys for the bitcoin wallets are generated on the user's browser, thereby ensuring security. Another noteworthy mention is Lisk, a platform for building blockchain apps from the ground up, in pure JavaScript.

JavaScript has reached unparalleled heights and will likely continue being the dominant language on the web, for many years to come. Although concerns were raised after the announcement of WebAssembly -- a new, low-level binary format for the web -- Brendan Eich has clearly stated that it would be impossible to kill JavaScript. 

JavaScript has also diminished the political divide between applications built using different technologies, like .Net and Java, and the need for specialized technology resources for development shops. A Stack Overflow developer survey from 2016 states that, "JavaScript is the most commonly used programming language on earth. Even back-end developers are more likely to use it than any other language." This was apparent from the fact that developers preferred JavaScript for full-stack (85.3%), front end (90.5%), and back end development (54.5%). 

JavaScript will always be a great language when you want high flexibility and fast prototyping. Although legacy apps will continue to benefit from Java, .Net, and mainframe, enterprises need to adopt JavaScript quickly to be on top of application services and build applications faster and cheaper, using widely available developer skills, thereby enabling the transformation for their digital future. Though there may be reluctance from some of the enterprises in adopting JavaScript early, few others are carried away by this new wave of adoption. Since JavaScript is one of the areas which undergoes phenomenal changes in a short span of time, enterprises need to make astute and informed decisions to reap the benefits without slipping from the transformation bandwagon

September 14, 2016

Minimizing risks implies investments in automation for next-gen underwriters

Author: Naveen Sankaran, Senior Technology Architect 

One of the main objectives of software is to automate work that would otherwise be done manually. This has multiple benefits including cost reduction over the long term, increase in productivity and profits, and the ability to channel human effort towards more important work.
Like every other industry, automation has immensely benefited the insurance sector as well; and although substantial number of processes are getting automated, there is always scope for more! 

Consider the case of policy management systems. We recently came across an application that manages policies and the entire associated workflow - from submission and quote, to bind and issue, and so on. While a majority of the work gets automated, many processes still require human intervention. For example, when application forms are filled, scanned, and sent by an agent to the application intake team via e-mail, the team has to verify and enter the details in the policy management system manually, before an underwriter takes it forward. This kind of work seems fairly mundane, and hence, can be automated such that the application automatically extracts data from the document and saves it, thereby saving significant time and effort. Similarly, there are various other opportunities for automation in processes.

How much automation is desirable?
Having said that, how far can automation be taken? In underwriting, one of the most critical tasks is the evaluation and pricing of a risk. While it is possible to automate this task through business rules engines, is it really desirable? If yes, what level of automation is desirable?

The answer to that depends on several factors, such as the type and complexity of the insurance, and the availability of data to accurately evaluate the risk.

In certain types of insurance (standard personal lines, for instance), if the processing volume involved is large, and the risk and margin low, complete automation (straight-through processing) using rules engines might be desirable - an actuary may author the rules for evaluating and pricing the risk (for example, the evaluation may be done based on the answers provided by the customer for a series of questions). The key benefits of such automation would include consistent risk assessment and pricing along with quicker turnarounds, resulting in improved customer satisfaction. Additionally, it would also save the time and effort of underwriters and actuaries who can devote resources to evaluating and pricing more complex and higher-value risks. A survey conducted by LIMRA indicates that two in three life insurance companies, in the US and Canada, have already implemented automated underwriting for at least a part of their business, while another 32 percent are in the planning stages.

In the case of more complex risks, while automation is possible, there could be hurdles -- like the unavailability of adequate data for accurate evaluation (for instance, a physical inspection may be required). Adding to the issues, an automated risk assessment is likely to be more conservative, resulting in missed business opportunities. 

Not an all-or-nothing situation
Still, it doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing situation for automation in underwriting. Even for fairly complex risks, automation can still play a role; wherein, although the direct involvement of underwriters in evaluating risk may be required, rules engines could provide additional insights and help underwriters take more informed decisions.

Advances in technology are having major impacts on the underwriting process. While underwriting is being fully automated in high-volume, homogenous lines of business (LOBs) such as standard personal lines, automation is also making rapid inroads into more complex LOBs, where underwriters increasingly rely on guidance provided by modern underwriting systems, models, and analytics to take decisions.
In order to stay ahead of the competition, insurers need to embrace technology in every possible way to improve efficiency and decrease the costs of underwriting. Given the fact that technology is rapidly evolving, insurers also need to keep a constant eye on the changes happening in the landscape.