"It's like life. It's that big," according to Jim Beard, a technology specialist from Dayton Ohio. It's estimated that more than 30 million people use the Internet worldwide, and that its usage is growing at well over 15% per month.
What is the Internet? The Internet isn't a commercial service or business. It isn't a single computer facility. Rather, it is a collection of over 35,000 independent computer networks, owned by individuals, corporations, universities, and government research organizations. Originally created in the 1950's and 60's by the Department of Defense as a war-proof computer communications network, the Internet as we now know it began in 1982, when the National Science Foundation (NSF) created a high-speed "backbone" network, consisting of telephone, fiber-optic, microwave, and satellite links. Its purpose was to facilitate high-speed access by researchers to several supercomputer centers across the country. Gradually, the Internet became a way for corporate and military product-developers to link up with university researchers, and, in 1991, most remaining restrictions against commercial uses were lifted by the NSF.
The key to the usefulness of the Internet is that it can link numerous and different types of computers to each other through use of a standard known as "Internet Protocol." According to this standard, information being sent to another computer is broken up into smaller data "packets," each of which contains the electronic address of the sender and intended recipient. The packets are routed to their destination, which can include any other computer in the world that is connected to the Internet, using the most efficient path. They are then reassembled by the destination computer into the original information or document.
Risk Management uses of the Internet. Risk managers and providers of products and services to risk managers are using the Internet in varied ways. Many risk managers, such as Cheri Hawkins at Weyerhauser Corporation in Tacoma, Washington, are making extensive use of electronic mail. Messages can be sent to or received from remote locations almost anywhere in the world without incurring long distance telephone charges. Computer files, such as "spreadsheets," word processing documents, and software programs can be delivered as "attachments" to an e-mail message. Unlike faxes, the data in the files can be used immediately on the recipient's computer. This allows for editing of a document or proposal by one or more recipients, and return to the sender in a computer-readable format. Or, with spreadsheets of budget or underwriting data, the information immediately can be consolidated with that of other locations or divisions, without being re-entered manually.
Accessing News and Information. University risk managers have utilized the Internet for many years to exchange expertise and information needed in solving risk management problems. Over 100 members of URMIA.NET, established by the University Risk Management & Insurance Association, utilize a "ListServer," whereby an e-mail message one member sends to a central point is forwarded automatically to all of the members for comment and input. This provides a useful forum for locating information and obtaining access to people who have confronted similar problems before. A similar ListServer approach is utilized by RISKNet at the University of Texas at Austin for distribution of academic articles and other topics of interest to insurance professionals.
Another use of e-mail is transmitting information in a standard format, such as the data that comprises certificates of insurance, underwriting applications, and employee benefits change requests. At Loyola University in New Orleans, according to Danny Holtsclaw, Risk Analyst, "We're getting rid of paper nightmares by putting student driver approval forms on-line."
A range of other Internet tools provide a powerful range of capabilities. "File Transfer Protocol" (FTP) has the ability to download sotware updates or demonstration versions of risk management software, as well as other computer files and an immense variety of free software. "Telnet" is an application that allows you to run software programs on another computer from your own computer.
The Web. One of the most important recent developments on the Internet is the World Wide Web. Originally proposed as a concept four years ago at the European Particle Physics Laboratory as a system for transferring ideas and research among scientists , the World Wide Web is an information distribution and navigational system that is growing at a rate in excess of 10% per month. It is easier and more exciting to use than the other Internet navigation tools, and integrates varied forms of information, including text, still images, audio, and video. Simply by "clicking" on highlighted text or images, known as "hypertext links," appearing on a Web "page", a user can access information residing on computers from around the world.
Various traditional providers of insurance information have established "Web Sites," from which their information can be accessed. These include the Insurance Information Institute and the Journal of Risk and Insurance. Several major insurers and service providers have established Web sites containing information on their products and services. An interesting Web site by PLOSS Associates provides links to a wealth of information concerning safety, environmental issues and regulations, and such governmental organizations as NIOSH and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Hazard Net provides a look at a variety of natural hazards, including earthquake, flood, and insect infestation. RiskWeb at the University of Texas at Austin provides links to a broad range of other insurance-related Web sites, as does Insurance Net. Most of these resources are under extensive development, and will be increasingly valuable in the months ahead.
Allen Monroe, president of Financial Risk Consultants in Larkspur, California, can be reached by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or (415) 927-8824.
Copyright ( 1995 RISK & INSURANCE. 747 Dresher Road, P.O. Box 980, Horsham, PA 19044-0980. Reproduced with permission of David Shadovitz, Editorial Director (215) 784-0910. Portions of the content herein first appeared in RISK & INSURANCE, in August, 1995.