by the recent hype, Application Service Providers (ASPs) are the best thing that ever
happened to the Web. This months tech column examines what an ASP is, the benefits
ASPs offer, limitations on the suitability of ASPs and examples of cross-industry and
An ASP is a vendor who makes application software available to
multiple customers via the Internet or another wide area network. The user typically gains
access via a standard Web browser.
Do not be confused by Microsofts recent announcement that ASPs
can rent MS application software to users. Renting software is not part of the definition
of an ASP! The key is that the software resides at the ASPs data center; how users
pay for the software is irrelevant.
Benefits and limitations
The ASP is responsible for installing, managing and maintaining the
software and backing data stored at the vendors site. As a result, ASPs offer
quicker use and lower costs than are possible if the software must be installed on the
However, to reduce set-up time and cost, an ASP may limit software
configuration options. Because they are so complex, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)
packages, such as SAP and Baan, are prime candidates for this type of simplification.
Users must be willing to give up features in exchange for time and cost savings.
Furthermore, some applications cannot run as well remotely as they do
on a local PC. Perhaps the best example is word processing (WP). With the rapid entry of
keystrokes and edits that are the heart of WP, a local PC can keep the display updated
more quickly than a remote server can.
Many ASPs provide services that are of value to companies in
different industries. Among the most popular applications are ERP and customer
relationship management (CRM).
and USinternetworking (www.usinternetworking.com)
are two ASPs in this category. New, rapidly growing companies are likely to be some of
their best customers. These companies have enough challenges just trying to recruit and
manage personnel; for them, outsourcing administrative tasks makes sense.
Some ASPs focus on specific industries. The following ASPs offering
services of specific interest to law firms and departments:
The core is Document Repository Incorpora-teds document and transcript
(litigation support) repository. Other services include document sharing, calendaring,
service-list management and collaboration.
Elite Information Groups bill presentment and financial management site for
small law firms.
Primarily a cross-industry ASP, Interliant also offers intellectual property
registration, collaboration, case management, litigation support and invoice delivery
software for the legal community.
Legal Anywhere Collaborator (www.legalanywhere.com)
Legal Anywhere markets Collaborator to law firms as a way to enhance relationships
with clients. Capabilities include document exchange, conferencing, contact management and
Developed by ELF Technologies, Serengeti helps law firms and corporate counsel work
together. Services include electronic invoicing, case management, financial management,
collaboration and document management.
If you want more information about ASPs, check out the ASP Industry
Consortium (www.aspindustry.org) or WebHarbor.com
Dana Shultz is an
Oakland-based certified management consultant, speaker and coach specializing in office
technology. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
and on the Web at www.ds-a.com.