ASP industry loses its way on road to Rome

All roads may lead to Rome but this month's European ASP Summit, held in Italy's capital city, left me with the picture of an...

All roads may lead to Rome but this month's European ASP Summit, held in Italy's capital city, left me with the picture of an industry still struggling to find its way.

Simon Moores

Tech talk

I searched hard for encouraging signs of maturity and a collective sense of purpose. Instead I heard many of the same tedious presentations and excuses as last year - reheated for an audience of the faithful, looking for signs of hope in a spiralling technology market.

Will software as a service really take off in Europe, or are the market conditions still unfavourable?

When, I asked one of the panels, does this message start looking less like a religion and more like a proposition? "Your guess is as good as ours," was the reply.

It is a great idea, the technology is sound, the business benefits are tangible, but Europe, with its minefield of different data protection legislation and competing telco interests, does not offer the same quick, plug-and-play, ASP-friendly environment as the US.

What really depressed me was an impression that the ASP Consortium (Aspic) - a body funded by the industry to promote the industry - appears to have collapsed into a self-interest group. I got feeling that it is biased more towards the personal interests of its committee than any real sense of common purpose.

My own view, and that of others at the event, is that Aspic, which does an excellent job debating standards, should not have any ASPs in leading executive roles. At the very least, it should examine the potential conflicts of interest that were visible at the summit; in particular, an unhealthy relationship which appears to exist between Aspic and the magazine ASP News, which one wit described as "ASPravda".

As with any major conference, the event had an awards ceremony. This resulted in the selection of iFuel as European ASP company of the year - a process described by one cynical exhibitor as "the most blatant case of ballot-stuffing since the Serbian presidential election". I cannot verify this statement but, if it were true, I would not be greatly surprised.

There is a great deal of interesting technology waiting on the success of the ASP industry - big Windows 2000 servers from Unisys, voice ASP applications from Ericsson and Microsoft's plans for software as a service through .net. If there is a problem, it is that the leadership seems unable to package the idea, take it forward swiftly and deliver on the vision.

There is a "Life of Brian" feel to the market, with many of the participants looking for spiritual leadership and comfort from research which simply tells the industry where it is not, rather than where it is.

As for me, chairman of the ASP Community, looking, I hope, impassively at the problem from both sides - supplier and user - I have to say that trust still remains the critical ingredient. And before this is accepted by the customer, the ASP industry needs to redefine its message, lose any cowboys and put its house in order.

Simon Moores is chairman of the Research Group

Read more on Business applications