Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance decided to go along the bespoke systems route for its London market operations.

Finding effective software for the insurance market is often tricky - do you opt for a bespoke system and run the risk of overspending on correcting unexpected glitches, or do you go for a tried and tested package that might not be perfect for your needs?

There are obvious advantages for and against both routes. An off-the-shelf package may be cheaper to start up and comes with the guarantees synonymous with software that is already in commercial use, though it is unlikely to offer an edge over your competitors. The bespoke option provides the client with a system that is created especially for individual IT and market needs.

In addition to this, the support package offered by a bespoke developer may be subject to higher standards, and handled correctly a tailor-made software solution ultimately can be a more cost-effective option.

Bespoke option
When London market risk solutions experts Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance (MSI) needed a Risk Engineering Management System, it decided to opt for a bespoke model to be created by Management Systems Modelling (MSM) for its Risk Engineering Department. MSM offers a bespoke software design service for the insurance sector. MSI analyses specific risks in client's portfolios - suggesting engineering solutions to reduce these risks - and needed an administration system to support the process.

A bespoke system allowed Risk Engineering Manager, Richard Thomas, to work efficiently without administrative support and to impose consistency and rigor on the risk assessment process. Richard awarded the contract to MSM, which had previously produced programmes for the company. This meant that a programme could be created allowing the risk engineering team and the underwriters to share data whilst maintaining data ownership rules.

In addition to this, Richard has been able to sell components of MSM's solution to his clients, therefore recovering the costs of development and raising revenue for his division.

Dual components
The system has two key components: a client/server Windows application for use in head office and a data capture utility for use on clients' sites to gather survey data. In due course a web interface for remote access to the client/server system will be produced, so it was decided that it would be most appropriate to use Delphi and SQL Server architecture for the client/server system using COM objects to contain the business logic for easy porting to the web. The COM objects effectively have an XML wrapper for integration to the Delphi GUI and a future ASP/HTML front end.

The data capture utility allows Richard to brief consultant engineers to visit individual insured sites by auto-emailing them a Java applet written by MSM, for use on a laptop or handheld device such as a Compaq iPAQ. XML is then used to email the data to the head office client/server system where it is imported automatically. The system has also improved the quality of management information and presentations to clients.

Most importantly, analysis and benchmarking of EMLs (estimated maximum losses) have been made clearer, more accurate and are available faster. The combination of faster reports from consultants on site and a smaller administrative burden has reduced costs. Before the new system was put in place, a set of recommendations would take between two or three days to prepare; now they can be produced in one day. This gives MSI competitive advantage on cost and on service quality for its clients.

Richard sees the completed system as much more successful than previous bespoke software projects he's been involved in. "Like many people, I used to have a mixed opinion of bespoke software, but this system has confirmed to me the benefits of tailor-made programming. We have been able to specify what we need from the software and can now offer a better service at reduced cost to our clients. I don't believe an off-the-shelf package would have been as successful for our needs. Furthermore, the system has improved our account management by speeding up our data retrieval and response times giving us that all important competitive edge."