Rick Gilman recently had the premise of hit television show Father Ted explained to him. The programme appealed to his sense of humour. But, if he wants to watch it, he will have to try to find copies of the video in the US, as videos from the UK do not operate to the same standards as those in the US.

Given his role as vice president of US-based standards organisation Acord, he can see the irony.

Gilman has been visiting London following the agreement with its London-based counterpart Wise that Acord would look after the future development of global insurance standards previously managed by Wise.

Wise was formed in 1999 to develop and promote electronic commerce for the global insurance industry. It also continued the work of the international standards joint venture of which Wise's founders, Limnet, WIN and Rinet, were all partners.

The development agreement took force on July 1, when all Wise members became members of Acord. Acord plans to bring the standards together into a common representation of data called Emerge.

“Emerge will take the standards we're responsible for and bring them into alignment, with a single data model and a single data dictionary,” Gilman says.

Acord sets its standards through a series of committees. There is a top-level strategy committee and below this are steering committees, subcommittees and working groups.

As a result of the development merger, a new reinsurance and large commercial steering committee will be added to the current life insurance and property and casualty steering committees. Those serving on the new committee will be engaged in the international market.

It is fair to say Wise's management of the joint venture had not been too successful. So why does Gilman think Acord can do any better? “We have been doing this for over 30 years,” he says. “We understand how it works.”

Acord began in 1970 by developing standardised paper forms for insurers in areas such as application forms for claims and loss information. It is an industry-owned non-profit making organisation and has more than 1,000 insurance and financial services institutions affiliated to it. Times have moved on and paper has now been superseded by work on EDI and XML software tandards.

Gilman says he thinks Acord has a better chance of success than Wise because its approach is more proactive. “I think one of the major differences between our two organisations is that we develop and manage the standards by engaging our members at all levels within their organisation to serve as volunteers on standards committee working groups.”

He describes the process of standards know-ledge filtering through organisations as being like a “trickle-up” of information. But he is reluctant to concede this means the technique sees the volunteers doing Acord's work for it.

But this integral role in development is vital, he says. It means the standards developed are more attuned to the needs of the businesses involved and more readily implemented. “You can't just create a standard and put it on a shelf somewhere,” he says.

He says no targets have been set for getting companies on board. It is early days yet, with Acord only recently setting up a London office. This base joins one in Brussels and another in New York. Ten former Wise staff have been taken on to aid the transfer of the business. “We have four people based in London, three in Brussels and four in New York who are all familiar with the standards.”

Acord staff have been visiting the new member companies to find out what their business needs are and to familiarise them with Acord's standards processes. But are the companies happy to work with Acord? Gilman says: “I'd like to think so. We've got a lot of good relationships with a lot of organisations around the world.”

And he is confident, with Willis, Marsh and Aon on board, that the brokers are on Acord's side.

Recognising the European angle, Acord is working on its publicity. New versions of the organisation's website are being developed in French, German, Spanish and Italian, and should be live within the next six months.

And three employees of European companies have been appointed to the Acord board: Clem Booth of Munich Re in Germany, Benito Pagnanelli of Generali in Italy and Jim Ratcliffe of Willis in the UK.

Acord says the insurance industry has long recognised that standards are the basis for the effective exchange of information. The ultimate vision is to be able to move information from one company to another without having to re-key the data each time. “The goal is to enter information once and, in some cases, not to have to enter it at all,” he says.