February 01, 2000
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio February 2000 Current Issue
February 2000 Tech filesPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:




Application service providers ease concerns about products becoming obsolete

Humorist Dave Barry once said computer stores should place recycling bins at the end of the checkout line, so you could just throw your new purchase away and go get the next edition.

When choosing a software package, it’s natural even smart to fear that it will become obsolete immediately. One of the latest innovations in the world of technology, application service providers, could offer a solution.

The term application service provider, or ASP, is really a variation on Internet service provider. But whereas an ISP provides Internet connectivity, an ASP would contract with an organization or individual to provide for the use of software over the Internet.

Let’s say, for example, an organization is looking to buy new software for sales support or group calendars. The traditional approach would be to evaluate several packages and select one that would be installed on an internal server to be accessed by each staff member’s networked PC. The ASP model changes the economics and logistics of this process.

In the new model, the organization selects the ASP with the best features and cuts a deal to have the group’s calendar “hosted” on an external server, which is accessible to users via a direct network link or, more likely, through a Web browser. The technical administration is done by the ASP, and the client can stop worrying about obsolescence.

Another example is a group that would like to have a virtual meeting prior to its annual conference. Managers could buy a server program and ramp up their bandwidth, or go the ASP route and rent the function on an annual or even daily basis. Some ASPs, like WebEx (www.webex.com), will provide limited virtual-meeting services for free, to familiarize potential clients with what they have to offer.

An ASP will have to stay competitive, adding new software and functions to stay ahead of its rivals. And because clients are renting this functionality rather than making a capital investment, they can switch providers almost at will.

The ASP marketplace will expand dramatically in 2000. We will see complete meeting support services, association management software and registration services available through ASPs. Here are some advantages of the ASP model.

  • Organizations can experiment prior to making a commitment.
  • The cost can be handled as an expense rather than as a capital investment.
  • The person with the technical skills to manage the software will work at the ASP rather than in-house.
  • Bandwidth is not an issue, as the ASP provider will have a robust amount of bandwidth or a direct line to your organization’s network.
  • Staff and attendees can access the ASP from a variety of devices computers, Palm Pilots, cell phones because it usually is Web-based.

    Of course, ASP deals might seem better than they are. Make sure the total cost of the ASP is in line with what you would have spent buying the software outright for the office. Also make sure the deal with the ASP allows you to back out and, significantly, to take all your data with you. Along those same lines, make sure you have explicit agreements about the privacy of your organization’s information.

    ASPs are coming. As we get better bandwidth, more and more of our software will operate as Web-based applications. We even will be able to rent word-processing and spreadsheet systems instead of buying them.

    Elliott Masie is president of the Saratoga Springs, N.Y.-based MASIE Center (www.masie.com), an international think tank focused on learning and technology.

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