Insurer outsources e-business

Direct Line's Jamjar motoring information service to be run by Computacenter subsidiary SiteHost

Direct Line's Jamjar motoring information service to be run by Computacenter subsidiary SiteHost

Julia Vowler

Motor insurer Direct Line has taken the outsourcing route for its second electronic business, Jamjar, after it developed its Directline.com Web site in-house.

The Jamjar site is targeted at motorists, offers motoring information, advice, and the ability for the public to buy vehicles from authorised UK dealers at fleet prices. Direct Line's owner the Royal Bank of Scotland has invested £50m in the venture.

"It's a very major development, and we went for external hosting because it's a huge system, with huge volumes, running 24/7," said Direct Line's group IT director, Richard Beal.

By contrast with the standalone Jamjar, the insurer's Directline.com was developed in house for less than £500,000 - although the company spent £2m advertising the site.

As the Web front-end to the company's existing insurance systems, the in-house development and hosting of Directline.com made better sense than outsourcing.

"Directline.com is very much at the heart of our [insurance] business," said Beal. "It's totally and tightly integrated with our core systems."

For that reason, he said, "we couldn't have done it so quickly" had it been outsourced.

The Jamjar application was developed by Quidnunc, and is being hosted by SiteHost, the iGroup's new e-business outsourcing service and a Computacenter subsidiary.

SiteHost uses the datacentre facilities of Web host Exodus, but, claims iGroup managing director, Richard Archer, goes significantly beyond mere Web hosting.

"We designed the infrastructure [for Jamjar] and our people implemented it; we have our own service operations centre [at the Exodus site]," said Archer.

Telecoms bandwidth for Jamjar is being provided by SiteHost on an unusually flexible basis.

"We charge bandwidth on a per megabyte basis, rather than the user having to buy a fixed amount," said Archer. "We think that's unique."

When bandwidth usage exceeds 60% at any time, more is automatically brought online to keep site performance adequate, up to a 100Mbytes.

SiteHost will also be closely monitoring the performance of the site when Jamjar goes live to the public in the summer.

"We'll be using BMC Software to monitor the site and gather performance statistics on such things as disc and database speed, it's part of our service to Direct Line," said Archer.

However, the 13 Sun servers hosting Jamjar belong to Direct Line, which runs its insurance business on Hitachi mainframes.

"Because of our mainframes we have a pretty good option on special deals - we were able to exploit our purchasing power," explained Beal.

Outsourcing e-business remains highly controversial.

"The market is a long way from mature," warned Philip Morris of outsourcing consultancy, Morgan Chambers. "There's no obvious route for IT directors to take."

Morris warned that traditional outsourcing suppliers are still highly nervous of taking on e-business, Web hosters' service level agreements are basic, and some of the newly appearing partnerships to provide instant e-outsourcing are only looking for enough customers to let the backers rush to flotation.

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