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IMPROVED RIMS SITE GOES ONLINE THIS WEEK

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Risk managers surfing the Internet this week will find there's been a major renovation at www.rims.org.

The Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc. has taken another step in enhancing the cyber community of risk managers by significantly upgrading its World Wide Web site. The improved home page debuts this week.

"In general, the overall architecture of the site is a lot more menu-driven, which supports all the content that we've added," said Kathryn West, RIMS director of communications and chair of the staff task force that oversaw the upgrade.

She noted that in addition to tapping into RIMS' own resources, members will be able to use hot links to access other risk management resources.

The site reflects the "idea of cyber community" among risk managers, said Ms. West. RIMS already has a very solid foundation of networking through committees, chapters, conferences and the like, and the new home page is an effort to "enhance this community," she said.

Meanwhile, the society is forming a Technology Advisory Council of members and non-members in an effort to increase risk managers' access to technology and promote standards in the insurance industry, said Scott K. Lange, director-risk management for Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft Corp. and Business Insurance's Risk Manager of the Year in 1995.

Mr. Lange, who is assembling the council, makes clear that the new group should be more than an online chat room.

"The profile that I would like to see for people who are members of the Council is people who are technologically savvy, but not necessarily technology technicians. I would like to see people who have a reputation for getting things done. We have an aggressive agenda; we don't want to get together and have meetings and feel good about having meetings; we want to get things done," said Mr. Lange.

"We've been observers; we haven't been active participants to changes. The intent of the council is we want this council to stand up and be heard," said Mr. Lange.

"On both the Web site and the Technology Advisory Council, what's driving those two initiatives is the feeling that we wanted to look at technology and how it could be used to advance what risk managers are doing in their jobs. We knew the technology was there; it was a question of finding the best way of using it," said Linda Lamel, RIMS executive director.

Louis J. Drapeau, who was RIMS president when the home page was first rolled out at RIMS' 1996 conference in Toronto, noted that the society has had a long commitment to using technology to help members professionally (BI, April 29, 1996).

The society created RIMSNET, a pre-Internet online service whose offerings include a news service, legislative updates and information on RIMS, about a decade ago, making RIMS one of the first associations to have such a site for its members, said Mr. Drapeau, manager-risk management for The Budd Co. in Troy, Mich. He credited former RIMS Executive Director Ron Judd with emphasizing the importance of the new technology.

Although "RIMS was at the cutting edge of technology at that time," most of the membership wasn't ready for it, said Mr. Drapeau. "We had this advanced technology that nobody could access." Most members didn't even have computers on their desks, much less electronic links to cyberspace, he said.

But as risk managers embraced the new technology, attitudes changed and members began wondering when RIMS would set up its own home page. The new forum was an immediate success, said Mr. Drapeau.

"I was amazed -- we were getting 12,000 hits a month," he said.

Ms. West noted that the society began contemplating changes to the site during the summer. RIMS' previous home page operated much like "that of many businesses', serving to establish a presence on the Web," she said.

"It was in many ways like a billboard -- very much a one-way communication vehicle," said Ms. West.

The new home page was designed by Information Inc. of Bethesda, Md., with the intent of being "very user-oriented," said Ms. West.

The cost of improving the home page was incorporated in existing fees so that the upgrades did not require an enormous supplemental expenditure, said Ms. Lamel.

The improved home page takes considerable advantage of interactive technology, she said. All RIMS committees will have a presence on the site, and the site will allow RIMS industry groups and committees to talk online. In addition, portions of the site will be partitioned for membership access only, she said.

This is "where only members can exchange ideas through clearly defined ports." Any member will have access to any port, she said. The result is "creating more of a map for members to reach out to other members."

One of the more significant features of the improved home page is its creation of a bank of hot links whereby members can access other selected bases, "making it the gateway to the relevant resources that are out there," said Ms. West. These resources include educational and library research references -- ".orgs, not .coms," she said.

Other features of the home page include an electronic index for articles in RIMS' Risk Management magazine; an "Ask RIMS" feature, where members can ask staff questions electronically; and access to RIMSNET, which is being moved into the home page as a premium service.

Ms. West said the RIMSNET fee structure will remain the same for now.

In addition to the application of technology embodied by the improved home page, RIMS is seeking to more effectively tackle general questions arising from increased dependence on electronic communication through its new Technology Advisory Council.

Mr. Lange said the Technology Advisory Council will probably consist of about 10 members, maybe six risk managers and four non-RIMS members, divided into five or so task groups charged with overseeing particular areas, such as the promotion of electronic commerce standards. The concept arose earlier this year, and the group is being called a "council" to reflect that its members will include non-RIMS members, he said.

The group will pursue several missions, said Mr. Lange.

It will act as advisory group in respect to RIMS' own technology, to see how the RIMS staff is setting up and using technology in New York, he said.

The council also will "review and prioritize projects" suggested by RIMS committees and staff, he said. This would include "orderly implementation of new products and services" such as online conference registration, virtual industry groups or discussion rooms, he said. The council will help "to guide the construction of a whole suite of services that will be valuable to our members."

The council also will push for changes within the insurance industry, such as creating data standards (see story, page 3). "Obviously, markets right now try to make their data standards proprietary," said Mr. Lange.

"We've really had enough, and we can come up with strategies to do something about this problem. We want to give the industry an assist in places where technology can bring efficiencies to the entire marketplace for companies and their customers," he said.

Commercial buyers must drive data standardization, said Ms. Lamel. Buyers have the added tool of being able to talk to regulators, underwriters and brokers as they pursue that goal.

The council also will see what RIMS members are doing internally with their systems, he said. It plans to set up a technology sharing forum "to facilitate the adoption of greater technology tools by professionals in the risk management ranks."

Mr. Lange said "one of the responsibilities will be in helping assure that risk managers have access" to such things as the Internet and e-mail, and may talk to vendors about group rates to access such technology for RIMS members.

"Sometimes you have to get to the nuts and bolts to get your members to use technology."