Communications between Asia and Europe or the east coast of the US are always affected by differences in time zones. However, correct use of the internet overcomes the issue, making e-mail significantly superior to other forms of long-distance communication. As for physical movement, distances within Asia call for a significant logistics chain. For insurers specialising in marine and aviation business, the needs of both resident and supplier to this diverse region are similar. Underwriting and service support infrastructures rely on swift and secure communication.

Alas the potential for error and fraud is high, so key to the electronic communication solution is security. SMTP e-mail, when configured to best advantage and through the use of cryptography, can provide users with highly secure and confidential links with customers, supply chains and service support infrastructures.

To date many organisations have concentrated effort on business-to-business (B2B) exchanges, closed systems and web-based communication. Most of these lack security, however, and can be easily compromised by anyone with determination and some knowledge. And despite being the manufacturing base for much of the world's modern technology, the Asian approach to using hi-tech applications is varied: Singapore and Malaysia will experiment with new technologies, while Japan and Korea are more likely to work with tried and tested applications. China is in both camps, but not surprisingly, locality determines the level of sophistication for technology usage.

In terms of law and its practice, most Asian countries are adopting similar regulation that recognises and supports digital data in correspondence and contractual form. It is the word ‘contractual' that provides the opportunity, but how many companies, hand on heart, can say they currently use the internet to form a legal contract?

In truth, most have personnel who, through incorrect use of e-mail, are regularly committing their organisation to a form of contractual liability. Using insecure e-mail systems, underwriters and claims departments are amending policies and advising claims and their subsequent status without any idea as to how e-mail and subsequent data storage stand up to arbitrational or judicial scrutiny. Proper use of internet technology can provide strong evidential weight if required in cases of dispute, yet when geographical distance becomes time-zone dominated, the temptation to overlook prudence in communication and archiving rises.

Of course paper-based correspondence is wide open to human and system fault, and to fraud. Most readers would state that they are users of e-mail, but for many e-mail is being used as the correspondence tool, then turned into paper and filed. This mix of paper and electronic data negates both processes, and can often mean that documents become lost, misfiled, or simply incapable of judicial use in the future. Instead, an unbroken, secure and continuous communications link, when directly combined with data storage in a way that ensures secure and proven retrieval, provides strong evidential weight that many legal jurisdictions within Asia will increasingly recognise.

Organisations deciding to use communication integrated with archiving to provide an irrefutable audit trail are no longer reliant upon paper-based systems, nor the costly activity of extensive physical storage. The use of large numbers of personnel can be cut back to a core group of employees that control the entire process at the top end, and do not necessarily need to be on-site.

On the security side, an integral part of the communication process is cryptography, which is now available to commercial organisations, and can be used at relatively high levels of encryption. Using code to protect data content is straightforward, and, more importantly, can (if desired) be controlled centrally by organisations.

Ultimately, all of this is a benefit to Asia, since it encourages international operatives to be diverse in a number of ways, which could include:

  • service support infrastructures such as claims, risk analysis and record-keeping;
  • a headquarters-based facility which spans both Pacific and Eastern seaboard time zones;
  • correspondent networks branch, and representative offices; and
  • A huge marketplace in its own right.

    The terrorist activities that recently hit New York and Washington will cause a major rethink within multinational companies about their organisational base. There is nothing wrong with the home-base concept, but why not diversify operations into other geographic territories? Establish dual, or triple, headquarters facilities, which, by their existence, publicly acknowledge the bottom line contribution that those foreign markets give to companies headquartered elsewhere.

    Today the internet enables the establishment of secure private networks over vast geographical areas. Asian countries have a long reputation for providing diversified manufacturing facilities for businesses that are headquartered elsewhere. New communication tools give greater opportunities for service organisations to maximise on the marketing and service facilities that Asia provides. In this respect, time zone becomes a benefit by enabling even the smallest organisations to become multinational in feel, structure and operation.

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