Ambitious IT systems allowing universal access to insurance information have not materialised. But Andy Cook says the dream is still alive... just

What has happened to the e-commerce dream? This week saw the demise of Brokersoft, leaving dozens of brokers scratching their heads and writing off five figure investments

At the same time, Polaris, the electronic trading vehicle of the big insurers, has revealed an unambitious plan to develop an industry portal. Not long ago, Polaris's i2i link was ambitiously attempting to provide a single IT system that everyone could use. All the big insurers would have their products and prices available through it and all brokers would be able to access it without investing in too much fancy software that would need frequent and costly updates.

But the new Polaris industry-wide project will be just a website that will link directly to individual insurance company websites, by-passing log-in procedures for each site, thus saving time.

Rather than being son of i2i, the new project, called E-Market, is not even in the same species, let alone family.

Scaling down the objectives of an industry-wide site gives it a better chance of being completed and many brokers will probably use it. Good. But what about the dream of brokers logging on to a website to access live details of policies and prices from all insurers, filling in policy details online and then issuing policies on the spot?

That dream is still alive. OK, it appears it will take longer to achieve than anyone expected and the picture will become murkier, with more company collapses and mishaps, before it gets clearer. But there are precedents. The motor industry has been trading components with its suppliers and rivals on a single exchange for a few years now. Substantial cost savings have been made for all.

Of course, it is not all doom and gloom. Products still in development like 24 7 and Acturis seem promising. InsurE-com's system, while limited, is well-liked by its users. Alongside these browser-driven systems, Misys and the older names in insurance IT continue to provide reliable service.

However, suppliers need to be careful not to undermine the confidence of brokers, insurers and loss adjusters in their systems any further.