July 01, 2001
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio July 2001 Current Issue
July 2001 Tech filesPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:


BY Bob Walters

How to select an application service provider to handle online transactions

Are you thinking about moving your registration, membership, trade show and/or educational programs to the Internet? There are some very real positives to be gained by doing so, but where to begin? You can build the software needed to do the job, or, more likely, you can find an application service provider (ASP) that offers the solution you need. The following are some issues that might arise when working with an ASP.

How well you and your ASP partners get along has a lot to do with your future success. Not only are you placing your company’s name on their applications, but your data is going to be in their hands, so investigate them as thoroughly as possible.
" Check past and current experience. Look for an ASP with clients that have similar requirements to yours.
" Investigate financial health. Is the company private or publicly held? If private, is it funded by venture capital? Venture capitalists can pull the plug if they’re unhappy, leaving you to start your search all over again.
" Ask about “uptime.” You want a service that is up and running 100 percent of the time. Even a slight dip to 99.9 percent equates to almost 10 hours offline per year.
" Review the disaster plan. The ASP might have redundant servers, a private power supply and/or shared resources with another ASP. Just make sure the backup details are written into the contract and the ASP’s staff is fully trained to handle emergencies. When checking references, find out how responsive customer support is.

Your staff members also need to know what to expect and who to contact if the system goes down, so set up your own disaster plan.

" Will you be on a dedicated server? Depending on your company’s size and usage, you might be sharing resources with other clients, which brings up performance concerns. Make sure you have a chance to test access times, speed of applications, etc., before signing a contract.
" Check security protocols. Shared resources might leave your data more open to theft. Find out what firewalls the ASP uses and how it limits access not only to your data but also to the network. Ask about both online security and physical security. If you are handling financial transactions, does the ASP employ SSL encryption? Does it have certification for handling credit cards?
" How often are backup operations performed? Also, where is the data stored? Some providers ship you the backup or have agreements with off-site storage companies. Tie it all in to the disaster plan, since the backup information might have to be retrieved quickly.

Now address how your data will be integrated. Most ASPs are using XML (extensible markup language) to map the data required by their system and exchange it with yours.

If your internal system is an off-the-shelf solution, the ASP probably has an exchange module to get data back into your system. Be sure the process provides for adding new records and modifying existing data, otherwise you’ll wind up rekeying information.

Fully review your service agreement, which should spell out all the conditions of your contract, including insurance, performance parameters and, most important, what happens to your data if the ASP goes out of business or you elect to move to a different provider.

This last piece is critical; be sure the agreement spells out not only that you will get your data back, but when and in what form, such as disc, CD or file transfer. You might need this data ASAP, so you can quickly get up and running on another ASP.

Bob Walters, based in Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas, is the founder of Phoenix Solutions and developer of MeetingTrak software.

Back to Current Issue index
M&C Home Page
Current Issue | Events Calendar | Newsline | Incentive News | Meetings Market Report
Editorial Libraries | CVB Links | Reader Survey | Hot Dates | Contact M&C