Five years ago, when Los Angeles-based Farmers Insurance Group introduced its first agent portal, the carrier believed it was on to something. As a communication vehicle, the portal pushed one-way information in "wallpaper" fashion to its captive and independent agents in 41 states.By 2003, the nation's third-largest provider of personal lines property and casualty insurance provided its agents with simple transactional capabilities by hooking its mainframe to IBM Websphere's "e-agent platform" front end.

Farmers' employee portal was designed likewise, giving 9,000 employees access to auto, fire, life and commercial systems' data.

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