By Anita Devasahayam
June 05, 2000
Asia Region's First Insurance Portal To Debut In July
The tedium of poring through mountains of documents to decide on the best insurance policy for your company may be a thing of the past.
Open systems advocate and software developer I-Systems Consulting Sdn Bhd is creating a portal to offer employee benefits, group life and medical policies over the Internet.
"Employers can crunch numbers to design the best policy for their employees in different levels without having to meet different insurers in order to do that. They can do it from the comfort of their desk, reducing the administrative hassles involved apart from narrowing down to their choice of insurer," said Malaysia-based I-Systems' Chief Executive Kevin Steer.
Targeted at human resource managers, the region-wide portal that is primed for launch in July, will eliminate paperwork for employers and allow them to compare and choose the best policy for their employees from a range of options online.
Steer said that he is completing negotiations with several industry members and competing insurers to set up the portal. "We have booked the name OpenNetInc.com and are currently in the midst of securing the first round of funding before the launch in July," he said.
Steer is confident of OpenNetInc.com's success because they have already secured potential customers. "We took the opposite approach to some Hong Kong portals by signing up customers here and in Thailand and Hong Kong in order to have a working B2B model first before seeking venture capital," he said.
He added the products on the new portal will be country-specific initially, but cross-border products will be introduced in June 2001.
"We expect the legal issues related to cross-border transactions to be resolved when governments reach a consensus. However, nothing prevents us from offering our products now to expatriates and companies operating in free trade and offshore zones," said Steer.
In tandem with the set up, I-Systems also teamed up with government-backed research and development corporation, Mimos Bhd, to develop a secure platform for transactions that will serve as a run up to the insurance portal.
"We need a trusted infrastructure that is legally binding to gain consumer confidence. And we spent four months integrating FastMail, our Web-based email and scheduling system, with Mimos' secure transaction backbone called iVEST to develop an Open Secure e-Business Platform for electronic transactions."
Transactions can be digitally signed and encrypted using smart card technology and will work with legacy systems by translating historical data into readable web-based format, commonly known as XML (Extensible Markup Language).
The secure backbone will handle processing, auditing and routing of the transactions from start to finish. Steer said that the architecture being designed is suitable for industries that require controlled access and secure transmission of any document or transaction via the Web.
"I see the core of what we are doing is to enable different businesses and portals to communicate together within a secure environment. If there is any dispute, we are the independent trusted body that maintains the audit logs that will be made available to relevant parties."
The architecture will be fully compliant with the legal requirements of the Malaysian Digital Signature Act 1997, a pioneering law that allows secure transactions over the Internet.
Steer said that Mimos and I-Systems will continually enhance the features of the product to support emerging mobile technologies including SMS (short message service) and WAP (wireless application protocol).
He added that both parties will jointly market the product to insurance companies, banks, hospitals, government departments and legal organizations throughout Asia Pacific.
FastMail, developed over a two-year period, is used by 10 organizations in Malaysia with the largest site handling over 12,000 users. Among the customers are local insurers, MCIS Insurance and MBA Life, the Life Insurance Association of Malaysia and virtual varsity University Tun Abdul Razak.
To date, I-Systems has spent over 750,000 ringgit (US$197,342) to develop FastMail. "To make this regional, we plan to spend 10 million ringgit ($2.63 million) over the next two years with a return on investment expected within three to four years."
Exchange Rate: $1 = 3.80 ringgit