Plan ahead and stay the course advised pioneering customers of the application service provider (ASP) model. Hardy survivors told tales of trial, reward and special knowledge to attendees of IDG's recent ASPWorld conference and exposition. Many of the early adopters were responding to common ASP drivers (see Figure 1).
There's still no map of where the early adopters have been, but there are some lessons to take away from their experiences:
- Allow sufficient time for the selection and implementation process.
- Perform due diligence of the ASP and compile a detailed list of your company's requirements and limitations.
- Select a path and stay the course.
- Make a realistic assessment of the internal human resources needed to facilitate the implementation process.
- Bring IT on board and deal with "ownership issues" right away.
- Make sure the ASP understands your business and its unique needs.
- Realize that the service level agreement (SLA) is not a static document; negotiate before you buy.
- Understand the difference between uptime and connectivity.
- Check the ASP's history and customers.
Figure 1: Importance of ASP Drivers
Rapid Deployment Can Take Time
Two of the three panelists at ASPWorld represented companies drawn to the ASP model by merger-induced growing pains. Both Victor Inglese of DaimlerChrysler Capital Services, and Mary Ruiz, director, human resources technology and operations for Excite@Home.com, were tasked with getting segments of newly expanded businesses up and running. Like other enterprise decision makers, Inglese and Ruiz were responding to time-to-productivity pressures and lack of sufficient IT resources. Both drivers were critical factors in their choosing the ASP model. Unfortunately, these pressures also had some negative impact.
For Inglese, there were problems associated with not having "a clear and unambiguous document of detailed requirements" during initial negotiations. This kind of problem can delay and confuse the implementation process later. Inglese also recounted how a faulty plan to reuse the company's hardware assets caused lost time when the hardware proved insufficient for the task.
Check Under the Hood
It's important to have IT's cooperation and perspective from the outset. "You have to know how the due diligence process is done on the IT side," said Ruiz. "Business people can walk in and say, 'This is great, I sign a check, and it's predictable,' but you need to have someone go in and say, 'What's your business continuity plan?'"
"Have your IT people visit the site," commented Shaun Fenn, director of sales information systems for Intraware. "Have them meet and get to know the people working on your account. Make a solid data plan before you go, and don't try to develop it as you go along. Remember, data is king!"
Driving the Golden Spike
Every implementation is a process of working from multiple directions. "Going with an ASP did not mean freeing up personnel. We had to devote a lot of people resources to the implementation," said Fenn. "We're small and moving fast. Keeping our ASP up to date with our business model was difficult."
"We just assumed that they would have the business expertise and the business process expertise. What they came in with was vanilla apps. We deployed them in record time while trying to establish some basic common processes internally and then said, 'Oh no, what have we got here?'" said Ruiz. "Going forward, we've got a lot left to do on the integration side."
The Dynamic SLA: Stop, Look and Adjust
Until it's signed, the SLA is a dynamic tool for ensuring a successful relationship between a client and an ASP. "Look at their performance metrics, look at their history of recoveries. Have they got one? Look at their backup plan and strategy, then lock specific terms and guarantees in to the contract," cautioned Ruiz.
"Negotiate an effective SLA," said Fenn. "Don't settle for the boilerplate; make sure the SLA fits your business plan and that the ASP feels the pain when you do. Ninety-nine percent availability at the data center is fine, but you need connectivity for your people in the field."
The evolution of the ASP delivery model has begun to turn on the experience of users as well as vendors. It's important to learn and adjust expectations to reflect this more complete reality.
Article reprinted from the ASP Advisor, IDC's weekly newsletter, October 25, 2000, No. 30. IDC is a global market intelligence and advisory firm headquartered in Framingham, MA.
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