Outsourcing: let me count the ways

Here's a look at the different products and services available to help you augment your Web site.
Posted December 22, 1999
By

David Strom

David Strom


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New Web technologies to improve your site, Part 4:

Outsourcing: let me count the ways
Here's a look at the different products and services available to help you augment your Web site.

By David Strom

December 1999

In this article:
A table of outsourcing vendors

An outsourcing vendor can deliver just about any part of your information technology plan these days. While it is nice to have lots of choices, it is sometimes hard to pick and choose the appropriate vendor and decide which pieces you want to have in-house and which you can safely outsource.

This is the fourth installment in a series on new Web technologies. We began with a look at various Web management tools and techniques..Last time we described payment systems for e-commerce.. In this article, let's assume you already have a working Web site and want to examine a variety of outsourcing services and products as well as other services that can be used to augment Web storefronts hosted elsewhere.

Before you make any outsourcing decisions, first take a candid assessment of your existing people and their skill sets. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you have a data center staffed by people comfortable with maintaining your Web server and applications? If not, then you might consider off-site Web hosting.
  • Do you have sufficient Perl or VB Script or other Web-based programming expertise? If not, then you should consider one of the storefront services.
  • Do you want to accept real-time payment processing on your storefront? If so, then consider specialty services including address verification and fraud prevention.
  • Do you have a solid database administrator, along with people familiar with Oracle or SQL Server or some other client/server database? And do you maintain your present product catalog on a database server and have the skills to manipulate this data on to your Web site? If not, then consider one of the outsourced catalog management companies.
  • Do you have the skills and the time to track your Internet connection and uptime issues? If not, then consider one of the many site performance services.
  • Do you want to enhance your site with additional customer support and relationship management features? Then consider using one of the site performance service companies as well.
  • Are you looking to migrate away from proprietary e-mail, such as Lotus Notes and Microsoft Exchange, and implement Internet-based e-mail for your enterprise? Then consider e-mail outsourcing partners.

Let's take a look in more detail at the kinds of services each of these providers offers, along with a few recommended vendors.

Web hosting

In the beginning, say in the early 1990s, there were just ordinary Internet Service Providers (ISPs). These companies provided a dial-up telephone number, an e-mail account or two, and very little else. Some of the more forward-thinking ISPs also offered packages to host your own Web site on their equipment for an extra charge; others included support for Internet newsgroups and other Internet applications such as real-time chat. Then about two years ago things started to get confusing, with ISPs struggling to differentiate themselves and adding various e-commerce services on top of basic Web hosting. These ISPs offered shopping carts, integrated payment processing, and catalog hosting to round out a complete e-commerce picture, calling themselves Commerce Service Providers in the process.

Nowadays just about every ISP worth its weight in T1 lines offers some kind of e-commerce hosting package. Some, like Concentric Network Corp., have so many plans that it is hard just to wade through the various combinations of features, site metrics (such as disk storage, page requests per month, and e-mail accounts), and operating systems (they offer Windows NT, UNIX, and Linux plans). The trick is in understanding what else besides the straight Web server is included. For example, some plans offer shopping carts, payment processing, and catalog management for the complete storefront.

One of the better storefront technologies is Open Market Inc.'s ShopSite, which uses simple Web forms as a front end to its more sophisticated services and back-end databases. ShopSite is available from a wide variety of ISPs and runs on both NT and UNIX systems.

Other good choices for site hosting with a variety of e-commerce features include IBM Corp.'s HomePage Creator and EarthLink Network Inc.'s TotalCommerce plans. IBM's offerings range from $25 to $200 a month plus initial fees up to $150, with the first month free. The company offers transaction processing through one of two providers, either Automated Transaction Services Inc. or First Data Merchant Services Corp.


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