The race to develop the new internet-based systems for the insurance industry took off this week when two companies launched competing portals head-to-head.
Technology giant Misys unveiled I2i-link, a joint venture with the UK's top six composite insurers that will provide a single portal for all broker distribution of insurance.
Misys claims it will become the industry standard through which all insurance internet transactions will have to be conducted.
But its launch comes just three days after software house Rarrigini & Rosso launched an internet application service provider, called 24-7 Broking, that promises to enable brokers to ditch their existing software house entirely.
The close timing of the two launches led to allegations from one technology commentator that spoiling tactics were at play.
Misys and insurers have earmarked £28m for the I2i-link which will be fully operational within four years.
24-7 Broking will be up and running from January next year. It provides brokers with a comprehensive front and back-office system solution.
Developed in association with BT, 24-7 Broking promises to allow brokers to discard their existing office systems and software and move over to a comprehensive online package of applications.
Brokers can hook up to 24-7 Broking using their existing hardware.
R&R chief executive Julie Rodilosso said 24-7 Broking would link up to the Misys portal in three years time if that was required by the industry, but was sceptical about a technology development that was not here and now.
"What do we do in the meantime, go on holiday?" she said.
"24-7 Broking is up and running now and will be available to brokers from January. It can rate and host products online within an application service provider, and costs brokers £65 a month."
But they will also have to lease a landline from BT, which will cost the average sized broker about £11,000.
Transfer of policyholder information will cost £350 per day.
Initial insurer-backers for the I2i-link venture are Axa, Norwich Union, Allianz Cornhill, Royal & Sunalliance, Zurich and Groupama.
They claim the portal will be the preferred method of creating and distributing insurance products.
Sixteen other insurers have been invited to join the I2i initiative, and earlier this month, the venture held "introductory discussions" with rival software houses Cheshire Data Systems, Policy Master, CSC and MCS.
RSA's Steve Broughton, who is chairing the I2i-link insurer consultative forum, said: "We want this to be 'the' general insurance industry portal based on a single set of standards that is open to everybody.
"Through this, we can reduce the cost to the intermediary channel."
The joint venture between Misys and the insurers is funded half and half.
I2i-link will start by charging insurers £2 for each of the first two million transactions. The charge will drop to £1 a transaction and finally to 75p.
The venture will eventually offer brokers and intermediaries a free desktop component that lets them integrate their back office system into the portal.
I2i says it will seek to work alongside software houses to develop the link. Privately, I2i insiders expect all software houses to sign up to the new venture.
One insurer involved in the I2i initiative said: "I cannot think of a way in which software houses cannot come on board with this."
The move was met with a mixed response from the software houses that I2i said it had approached.
MCS chairman Bernie Conlon said: "We think this misses the boat somewhere. How will insurers open up their databases and make products available across the network?"
CSC marketing director Tony Barker said: "We only got the presentation last week. We really haven't had time to sit down and consider it as a group."
The other software houses that I2i had approached – Cheshire Data Systems and Policy Master – were unavailable for comment.