As insurers make an overdue move to Windows, they need to watch out for the system's pitfalls, warns Ross Hall....

The next generation of insurance office systems will abandon familiar green screens for Windows PCs. These, salespeople claim, will give the system more power and flexibility. Instead of using a simple but effective text editor to write a letter, you will have all the features of Microsoft Word at your disposal. Your back-office database will be faster to use, and you will have better reporting tools. Internet access will also be possible.

Although Windows has been in general use in many industries for years now, it does have a downside. Windows systems are not as easy to install and configure as their green-screen predecessors. With more functionality added to systems, and more potential for configuring them to specific needs, it is no longer enough for an engineer simply to turn up and install a box that no one will ever touch again. More day-to-day technical support is needed.

Windows is a complicated system to install and operate (and that goes for both the desktop and server products). Both it and the programs it runs are powerful tools. However, that power comes at a price.

In the past few weeks, free software has appeared to help network administrators (and thus hackers) find and exploit holes in Windows security. For example, a loophole has been discovered in Internet Explorer 5 that allows someone to plant and execute potentially damaging code on a PC. Many websites were defaced using this route on April 1, as a two-fingered gesture to Microsoft. I wonder how many intermediaries knew that this happened, let alone were aware of how it affected their business and knew what to do about it?

Fixes (called patches) to the Windows products are released regularly to close security holes. These need to be installed promptly to protect data, but they also need to be tested first.

Some months ago, at least two businesses I know of lost their email for several days when a patch released for a Microsoft product disrupted another, unrelated program. Why this happened no one could really tell, but it could have been avoided with appropriate software management procedures. Do you know what they should be?

If you move to Windows, and for some companies there is little choice, remember that you are taking on a very different beast to your old system. It is going to cost you more to buy, run and maintain. If you want a return on your investment you will need to make the thing work for you.

Before you make that decision, research your options thoroughly. Many intermediaries all but rely on a salesperson to make their system decision for them. If you take that laissez faire approach, you deserve what you get.

  • Ross Hall is founder of strategic consultancy Garol. A free fact sheet on Windows computing for brokers can be obtained by contacting him at