They just don’t believe it

It is both humorous and frustrating to learn that no one believes in the Loch Ness Monster, Sasquatch or ASPs. Full Internet hosting of business applications is an incredible success for the IT industry that people downplay. A recent ComputerWorld Canada article (“ASPs are at your service” by Poonam Khanna, June 29, page 25) painted ASPs with a fairly broad brush when they were described as risky and that there “can be some good business reasons” to use such a product. Can be, eh? I guess some people must believe these things are built just for fun, not for good business reasons.

The process of having to load software (other than the OS and a browser) onto PCs and keeping it current is facing extinction. As the Internet becomes more reliable, many applications can be Web-enabled and hosted centrally.

This provides a huge benefit to our customers. As my company’s products were developed, it became a guiding principle to allow full secure Internet access to the consumer front end (e.g. when someone buys something) and the back office for maintenance. This access allows the seller of the product or service to change prices and availability without having to rely on anyone.

The acronym ASP, which last I heard meant Application Service Provider, is not all that meaningful to clients. I suspect when they see it written down they think of a snake. IT people think it means Active Server Pages.

When explaining an ASP, I often hear, “You mean I don’t have to install any software?” The banks – who so often provide me with wonderful article material, bless their stony little hearts – don’t understand either. During the process of setting up credit card accounts for an e-commerce application, the contact at the bank was totally perplexed that I wouldn’t be running around installing software on my clients’ machines. “You see, I don’t have to do this,” I said, “It’s called a competitive advantage.”

IT professionals don’t seem to believe that a decent application could run over the Internet. Well folks, it’s happening. The Internet has the interesting natural effect of diluting the impact on a well-built application. There is a lot of room to manoeuvre, even if the database and Web server are all on the same box and people perform transactions that are controlled and optimized. For example, if someone has started a transaction to buy goods online, it takes time for them to figure out what they want. In this lull another few transactions can be done. The line speeds available to the application and the inherent slowness of humans give computers lots of time to work.

The ASP model has opened incredible doors into organizations that never had the wherewithal to manage a complex application with servers and networks beyond PCs with a basic Internet connection. It is profoundly frustrating to discover that our prospective clients are skeptical, especially when it’s to their benefit to have access to advanced processes with a basic browser. The sales process has become an education process and sales reps don’t teach.

Worse perhaps is the IT department’s own aversion to an idea as simple as a fully hosted application. Is it that the client/server crowd thinks that this is what a mainframe was supposed to do? Is it that the mainframe people can’t believe a network with everything from news to porn on it could possibly do something useful? Or maybe, the erratic slowness of the Internet makes us write good, efficient code.

Ford is an IT business owner who is committed to hosted applications on the Internet. If it doesn’t work, he will start looking for Sasquatch scat in the Kootneys. He can be reached at [email protected]

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