It's unfortunate that this month's launch of application service provider (ASP) aggregator Seven was mostly remarkable for the contentious nature of its claim that, "the Internet does not offer a reliable enough transport mechanism for the delivery of applications," than for its plan to offer a "metered utility-style" billing service to customers.
At a time when members of the fledgling ASP industry need to be seen working together, in a united effort to convince business that software rental is a really good idea, any suggestion of a squabble over standards will only encourage potential customers to remain sitting on the fence.
There are several problems surrounding the ASP question in the UK at this time. First of these, is that American executive imports insist on using US-sourced Gartner figures to support their growth predictions for the UK. Given the maturity of broadband and other technologies across the Atlantic, one might as well compare apples and bananas. I'm reminded of a mistake once made by Lotus CTO John Landry who, when evangelising the Internet during a tour of UK, failed to realise that local calls were not free.
Secondly, and following the entry of companies, such as Cable & Wireless the ASP proposition is sitting between two much larger technology waves and is really a symptom of the greater expansion of IP services, more likely to be owned by acquisitive telco interests as opposed to smaller, venture capita-funded, new economy players.
Aggregation, in a multiple applications environment, is a good idea but at the same time does add another layer of complexity to an already top-heavy and convoluted-looking ASP message. Of course customers want a single reliable relationship and of course they will require flexible billing and flexible contracts. However, announcing this, as if it were the result of some blinding epiphany, does rather encourage one to ask what on earth the industry, led by the ASP Consortium, has been doing over the past 12 months, other than talk about partnerships, data centres and the sorry state of Service Level Agreements.
In the end it's all about a mix of leadership, technology and vision. Leadership as in establishing a readily comprehensible European agenda and future for the ASP industry. Technology in recognising that the availability of IP services over here aren't quite the same as services over there. Vision, as in understanding that ASP services are simply a symptom of a much greater evolutionary struggle involving the software industry and what we used to think of as the telecoms market.
Simon Moores is chairman of The Research Group