Over the last few years, Greenwich, Conn.-based IVANS, Inc. has collaborated with both Applied Systems Inc. and Microsoft Corp. on a handful of initiatives designed to upgrade the flexibility and functionality of Web-based data exchange among carriers and agents.In late October, IVANS, an e-business integrator and data management provider for the insurance industry, raised the stakes of its involvement with both companies when it launched joint ventures with University Park, Ill.-based Applied Systems and Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft.

Designed to enhance automated agent-carrier communications, the alliances were formed expressly to create a new single-platform data exchange technology that the company is calling Transformation Station.

The product combines software and Internet-based technologies that "provide a common platform using best-of-breed technologies for electronic data interchange (EDI) transactions as well as real-time Internet transactions," says Anna England, vice president of e-business solutions for IVANS. "This will ensure that we are not creating separate channels and the insurance distribution system is tightly integrated."

Following its October introduction, Transformation Station was initially rolled out to various insurance agencies across the country-encompassing 5,000 desktop units, and by the end of the 2001, IVANS hopes to expand penetration by another 4,000 desktops. Several carriers have also joined the initiative, and, by the end of 2001, IVANS projects that approximately 20 carriers will be actively using the process.

Transformation Station may have potential to thrive if it proves as flexible and scalable as IVANS officials believe it is.

Making the transformation

This will be paramount because "the data-exchange platforms that were tried by companies such as InsureQuote were not embraced wholeheartedly by agents because agents found that every so often they had to pile on another technology platform to their agent management system," says Todd Eyler, a senior analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc. "What agents want most is a single-platform, browser-based data exchange technology."

In its initial rollout, agents will use the technology to obtain real-time quotes from carriers. Through the implementation of Extensible Markup Language (XML), on which the Transformation Station platform is based, real-time quoting alleviates agents from double entry of data.

IVANS actually began laying the groundwork for the technology through past affiliations with both Applied and Microsoft. Applied Systems, an automation solutions provider, has collaborated with IVANS on establishing real-time Internet communications programs to enable business partners who operate from disparate databases to conduct business on the Web.

With Transformation Station, England says IVANS will leverage Applied Systems' "real-time technology and messaging infrastructure in combination with IVANS' information exchange and batch-storing process." IVANS plans to pay Applied Systems a licensing fee.

IVANS has also been designated a "managed Microsoft partner." In that context, IVANS and Microsoft will collaborate to provide a next-generation agency/carrier communication interface, Internet-based hosting and consulting and other initiatives. In return, Microsoft plans to make regular contributions to IVANS' customer communications and conferences.

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