It never fails. Whenever I attend an insurance technology conference, I can be sure someone will ask, “So, what have you seen that’s new or impressive?” Unfortunately, my answer to that question is usually preceded by a yawn, a rolling of the eyes, or a polite chuckle–which is probably all the answer that anyone needs.

It’s no secret that very little goes on product-wise in our limited technology space that is very new or significantly impressive to the larger world of technology, but it should be said that there are sometimes other developments–other trends–that may indeed be significant.

One such trend emerged at this year’s ACORD LOMA Insurance Systems Forum in Orlando last month.

In talking with some folks at Computer Sciences Corp.’s booth, I was stunned to learn their new “Product Accelerator” software–which simplifies the creation of life insurance and annuity products–doesn’t require that the user be an existing CSC shop. In fact, the same was said to be true of their other new products in the property-casualty space.

This is a complete about-face from the CSC mantra I have come to know over the years, which is basically: “We have wonderful products for insurers who run on our exclusive platform.”

The CSC executives at the ACORD LOMA Forum told me this new direction has been the norm at CSC for some time now, but they also had to admit that they haven’t advertised the fact very loudly.

And why not?

If you’re going to charge insurance companies $500,000 plus (in the case of Product Accelerator), wouldn’t it behoove you to make your products usable in as wide a variety of environments as possible?

The good news is that this is a trend I am beginning to see among other insurance software vendors.

It is ironic that while many insurers remain stubbornly proprietary in their systems approaches, the vendors who serve those insurers are moving toward more universally usable solutions–often available as modules that cost less than the total product or platform.

It makes a lot of sense for the vendors, and it looks like insurers will just have to live with the idea that they may be using the same basic technologies as other carriers.

Meanwhile, another trend addressed by the CSC product that is high on the list of priorities for other vendors is the move toward creating systems support for product development. Other companies that spoke to me about this trend during the Forum included Camilion Solutions and Microsoft.

Carriers are looking for ways that technology can help them with product development, according to Bill Hartnett, U.S. industry solutions director of insurance for Microsoft’s Financial Services Group.

He suggested that lack of collaboration is a key obstacle to such an effort–adding, not surprisingly, that Microsoft’s Office 2007 features built-in collaboration tools that can integrate with a carrier’s policy administration and other functions.

Speaking of Microsoft, Mr. Hartnett also commented on his company’s noticeably reduced presence at the ACORD LOMA Forum, as compared with previous years.

While he didn’t completely rule out budget considerations for Microsoft’s change in direction, he pointed to what he perceives as “a drop-off in the number and quality of attendees.”

According to Mr. Hartnett, in recent years, vendors have outnumbered other attendees two-to-one at the conference, leading Microsoft to reconsider the way it spends in the insurance sector.

Instead of sponsoring the gala closing night party as it has in previous years, Microsoft elected to support its vendor partners on the show floor while maintaining a more muted presence in a neighboring hotel, he said.

Interestingly, Microsoft rival IBM boasted quite an impressive display on the ACORD LOMA Forum show floor. It’s hard to know which strategy will pay off, but next year’s conference could be very interesting.

Finally, the Forum’s schizoid (life versus property-casualty, standards versus general technology issues) nature continued to assert itself. Although ACORD President and CEO Greg Maciag and LOMA President and CEO Tom Donaldson took turns addressing attendees on the same stage during the Forum’s opening general session, their remarks bore absolutely no relationship to each other–the former focusing on standards, the latter on continuing education.

One would think they were beamed in from two completely different universes.