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There is one essential truth about having your business applications in your own IT department that can't be replaced, no matter who you might outsource them to: you are in complete and total control. For the mission-critical applications that make your business a business, it's hard to contemplate giving even part of that control to someone else.
Trusting even a portion of the processes that make your business run to someone else has its rewards, however. When you release some of the responsibility, you also relinquish some of the pain. What's more, at least in theory, you take on a partner to help you shoulder the responsibility.
It's the theory part that gets businesses, and in some cases throws roadblocks in front of application service providers (ASPs). What customers believe they should get and what they actually get are usually two different things. So, how can you make the move from legacy applications with confidence?
"Select your ASP carefully," says Andrew Watson, president and COO of Norcross, Ga.-based CoreHarbor, Inc. "You can knock down two issues by selecting an ASP that has experience and is focused on understanding what you are trying to accomplish."
Facing the Music
One of the key issues when moving any business application from legacy to ASP-hosted is understanding what you are trying to accomplish. If you don't know what you need, you can't expect your needs to be satisfactorily met. And what those needs are will dictate whether the application can successfully be hosted outside of your organization.
For example, Watson says, "Some applications just aren't suitable for ASP hosting." And he points to e-procurement, in particular, as one process he believes was really designed for the ASP environment. More complex applications are more difficult to outsource, he says. "There really is a wide spectrum of applications, and of how well those applications will work in a hosted environment."
One way to be sure you're getting an application that will work well in the hosted model is to choose one that was built specifically to be provided in the ASP model. Applications that are designed to be delivered via ASP will perform better, and likely be more reliable in that model, according to Watson.
Another thing to consider when thinking about outsourcing applications is the overall selection of the ASP, says Watson. Things to look for are the area of focus for the ASP, the amount of expertise they have, their business model and viability. Additionally, look for an ASP that you "click" with. The people are as important as the processes and background that you're looking at.
Harmonizing On Key
Once you've made the decision to move your legacy application to an ASP-hosted model, then it's time to look at the remaining obstacles you'll have to face, and to begin to plan for a successful move. Keith White, general manager of ASaP at Merant International Ltd., in Rockville, Md., says you should look at the delivery model of the ASP.
"Is the ASP truly a one-to-many model?" he asks. "If there is too much customization, the ASP is basically taking on the same problems the customer was facing in the first place." While some customization is often necessary, White says ASPs that customize their products too much make it difficult, if not impossible, for you to find another ASP or legacy application, to take their place if the worst happens.
There are two key questions White says you should ask when evaluating an ASP:
1. What is the ASP's policy on customization? He says some customization is good, but beware of a company that offers to customize every little detail because that's not cost effective for them, nor is it in your best interest.
2. How will I be impacted when new technology comes along? This is an area that is all too often overlooked. Technology is not a static element of the ASP relationship. How is your ASP going to take advantage of that, and how will that affect the applications that you are moving from legacy to ASP?
If you intend to move your applications to the ASP model, White says, "Run the ASP in parallel in the first few months. Make sure your agreement is established and certain milestones are met before any payments are made."
Call it a backup plan, but White says the parallel effort also helps to build your confidence in the ASP that will be hosting your applications.
Finally, Watson and White both suggest organizations choose an ASP that is going to be a partner in your business. When you're replacing a legacy application, you're often moving the people who were operating that application to something new. If you know the ASP you choose will be a partner in your business, you'll be more comfortable trusting them to take control.
Making the move from legacy applications to ASP-hosted applications is a bit like riding a state-of-the-art roller coaster--especially if this is your first trip into the ASP environment. Take the time to know the ASP that you choose, the application you're going to be using, and set some parameters so you know exactly what you can expect.
"We believe ASP is a tremendous model for software," says Watson. "And it's a tremendous model for all sizes of companies." But it only works if you're comfortable with letting go just a little bit.