Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio July
BY Bob Walters
MANAGING YOUR ONLINE SERVICES
How to select an application service provider to handle
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
" 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
" 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
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.
WHO OWNS THE DATA?
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
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
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