Commerce product gives insurance firm competitive edge

Microsoft Corp.’s latest brainchild, Commerce Server 2000, an e-business solution for e-tailers, B2B and e-marketplace applications, has been quickly embraced by Chubb Insurance Company of Canada Ltd.

The product, a follow-up release to Site Server 3.0 Commerce Edition, is a development and management tool for e-commerce that lets users build, maintain and administer their storefronts.

Chubb adopted Commerce Server 2000 to create its extranet and better serve its brokerage partners. Through the development of its on-line broker self-serve system, Chubb offers access to detailed client information.

“Chubb had a need to increase service to its brokers. We saw what our competition was doing and we wanted to go in another direction,” explained Blair Taylor, Chubb’s IT architect in Toronto. “Traditionally, brokers would have to call or fax our call centre to receive information on premiums or policies and they’d only have until 7:30 p.m. Eastern which wasn’t great for our brokers in western Canada.

“Commerce Server 2000 helps us with distributing content to our brokers. Now it’s accessible to them 24 hours per day…our brokers are able to customize that information which makes it easier for them to disseminate that information on a more personal basis.”

Taylor said Chubb’s rendition of Commerce Server 2000 is a beta product, meaning the level of support from Microsoft isn’t as intense as it would be for an official release. However, he credited the software purveyor for making abundant information available via the Web. He added the implementation process was easiest when done on only one machine.

“It’s a challenge for any product and anyone to implement something in a firewall architecture,” Taylor said.

Chubb is one of only a handful of major Canuck customers thus far. But from Michael Flynn’s perspective, it’s still early in the game. Microsoft Canada’s marketing manager, developer tools and commerce platform, said Chubb’s endorsement of the software only two weeks following its official roll-out is testament to the product’s customer relationship management (CRM) capabilities.

“It is designed for any business to do any number of things such as Internet-enabled customer relationship management,” Flynn explained from his Mississauga, Ont., office. “There is pre-packaged coding built into this Server which will help a company get its e-commerce applications running. Good CRM is directly tied to understanding your customers and that can be complex.”

Commerce Server 2000 has been adopted by several American companies, however. U.S. entities, Clarus Corp. and the Starbucks Coffee Co. are all on board.

“Commerce Server data is tied into our SQL server engine to provide a business analytic template,” Flynn continued. “For example, there’s a guide to help identify the purchasing trends of your customer base, and that’s a huge amount of work saved for our users.”

Commerce Server 2000 is Microsoft’s fourth-generation commerce server technology. The product enables e-businesses to conduct user profiling and management, flexible order processing and sophisticated decision support. All of which, Flynn insisted, can be comfortably managed by business managers through the Server’s business desk.

Flynn said the Server is wrapped with Microsoft’s Application Centre 2000 services which allow for the management of any e-commerce platform of any size.

Kevin Restivo, an analyst with IDC Canada in Toronto, praised Microsoft’s latest e-commerce server as their best crack at the e-business shell to date.

“It’s a massive improvement over their previous editions,” Restivo remarked. “E-commerce Web sites need good management tools. The other bonus here is [Commerce Server 2000] will leverage Microsoft’s other core products such as Windows and the SQL Server database.”

Restivo added that while Commerce Server 2000 is easy to implement and less expensive than its direct competition, it is not as robust as the software developed by Blue Martini.

“But it’s perfectly suited to the Canadian marketplace,” he stated. “We’re a mid-sized market compared to the U.S. and Commerce Server 2000 is totally suited to that.”