Craig Harris, ci magazine March 2001 – editorial

Few things have demonstrated the gap between noble
aspiration and distasteful reality better than information technology in the insurance
industry. Projects aimed to streamline transactions, put insurers on a common platform and
reduce the significant expenses of broker-company communication have been announced with
great fanfare, only to languish in ignominy.

EDI, Synchron, SEMCI, POS, “once and done” . . .
of course I could go on. All these terms held promise, but delivered short. Some proved
little more than smoke and mirrors. Others collapsed under the weight of company-broker
politics. Now, the Centre for Study of Insurance Operations is moving ahead with the
latest incarnation of this hi-tech Holy Grail – an industry-wide portal.

Clearly, CSIO president Klaas Westera, board members and
brokers are learning lessons from the past and focusing on results the industry can
actually use. The portal is billed as a “thin” application, a scaled-down
solution that doesn’t talk about underwriting or transaction security. It rather aims to
give brokers a single sign-on point of entry and centralized source of information.

The main question with the portal is, how effective is
thin? If it delivers comparative quoting service, that’s nice, but certainly not the
answer. Ditto with online forms printing. Hardly heady stuff. It is in the next phase that
the real work, and industry challenges, begin — policy change, claims and billing
inquiry, account status, new business. How can the portal give brokers and companies the
functionality they need?

Some insurers aren’t waiting to find out (see
article, page14). They are piloting direct Web-enabled broker access to their mainframes.
That’s right: no overnight batch processing, no upload/download, no ridiculous mixture of
EDI and courier. Through secure portals and pre-set screens that prevent the send of
incomplete information (a huge problem with EDI), brokers can make changes and inquiries
in what is truly “real-time.” Other companies still cling to overnight batch
processing and legacy systems, effectively preventing them, for now at least, from
participating in the real functionality of an industry portal.

And therein lies the problem. Much of what the industry and
CSIO can do is dependent upon individual companies moving forward in due time. Or is that real time?