Direct Connect: Users to Data

Using the internet to strengthen business relationships

In IT circles, the term "disintermediation" usually means removing the middleman—the dealer or wholesaler—from the distribution chain, thanks mostly to e-commerce. When Daniel Loranger uses it, he's talking about changes that have removed the middleman standing between users and the information they seek.

Loranger is vice president, CIO and part owner of Safety Insurance Co., a Boston property and casualty insurance carrier. He's using the Internet to strengthen the firm's relationships with the 600-odd independent insurance agencies in Massachusetts that form Safety's exclusive sales network.

And the strategy's working. Since 1996, when Loranger proposed giving Safety's agents access to the company's internally developed insurance applications, the company has grown from $295 million in premiums to an expected $465 million in 2001. It's currently the third-largest auto insurer in the state, and its premium writings per employee are among the highest in the industry.

In some ways, Safety's rollout of new IT services for its agents and policyholders parallels a trend Loranger has seen in the IT community at large during his four-decade career—the spread of IT "empowerment" to users—often over the objections of IT intermediaries.

"In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the technology allowed us to move from the glass walls of the computer room and empower the user," Loranger says. "That caused a lot of disruption. The computer rooms, the data processing centers, didn't want to empower the users, and the users didn't want to be empowered. They thought of it as extra work."

About the Author

Bob Mueller is a writer and magazine publishing consultant based in the Chicago area, covering technology and management subjects.