Digging behind ASP hype

Ross Bentley talks to three small companies that have adopted application service provision

Ross Bentley talks to three small companies that have adopted application service provision


Name: Chris Cann

Occupation: systems partner at Martin Kaye Solicitors, Telford

ASP: Hub

Applications delivered: Microsoft Office 2000 applications plus a bespoke accounting system.

Applications kept in-house: We still manage our online banking applications and are trialing some voice recognition software.

Why did you choose ASP? Over the past few years, the company has moved from dealing with commercial law into the growth areas of injury claims and property law. We currently have 54 employees but plan to double that figure in the next year. More work and more people inevitably means more IT.

Our old system consisted of an Exchange server, Internet Explorer, an Outlook package all running on Windows 95 to outdated desktop clients. We realised that the pain and cost of bringing our IT systems into line with the growth we are experiencing would be considerable.

A business acquaintance recommended we have a look at Hub. I was slightly nervous about entrusting our systems to a company whose datacentre is 90 minutes hours drive away in Leicestershire, but after having visited the centre and seeing all the security and back-up systems, I felt more assured.

The situation now? The applications are delivered to us on a 512K leased line with the old PCs acting as thin clients. The quality of service is far better than the old system - you click on an application and it pops up straight away, as if you were running a PC with a Pentium III chip inside.

To have the full Office suite and basic accountancy package delivered to us costs £165 per user per month. Obviously, if we want to add any more applications or technologies, Hub will simply charge an additional sum straight back.

I am a solicitor first and an ITer second, although it does seem that the office manager and I have spent the last six months running around with screwdrivers in our hands dealing with IT problems. It is now two months since we switched over but, although we've had a few glitches, these are just teething problems. We have been on the phone every day to Hub for one reason or another but these are starting to trail of now.

I am starting to have more time to carry out some useful planning work and put together some training programmes. I plan to appoint seven gatekeepers or deputies and train them so they will be able to deal with any IT problems for their department.


Name: Steve Jardine

Occupation: director at Choir Marketing/Advertising Services, Nottingham

ASP: Hub

Applications delivered: A Sage financial package, Powerpoint and a client database.

Applications kept in-house: We decided to keep our design studio packages separate such as Photoshop, Adobe and Quark Xpress.

Why did you choose ASP? We didn't have a network and were struggling to find a suitable person to join us in-house at a reasonable cost. I stumbled on Hub's operation by chance and realised that this was the ideal solution for someone in my situation. They came and installed it within three hours.

The situation now? We've been running on the ASP model since the end of April and, so far so good. To be honest we can't tell the difference in the quality of service now as compared with before but we don't have to worry about maintaining our IT systems. Each time we want to update, we just make a call.

I see application service provision as a bit like hiring a car - we just drive it but if it breaks down or needs maintenance - the experts deal with it. Previously, if an IT system went down it was the equivalent of being stuck on the fast lane of the M1 without a mechanic.


Name: Graham Hoggard

Occupation: operations director at Redwood Financial Services, Hull

ASP provider: Vistorm (formerly ESoft)

Applications delivered: Open Accounts financial package and standard Windows office packages.

Why did you choose ASP? Redwood outsources company accounts. Through the ASP model we can network in real time with our clients and access and update their accounts at any time. To do this by ourselves would have cost both in the investment on systems and in the setting up of an internal IT department.

Before, we had to limit ourselves to smaller client companies and would need to travel to the client location. This meant that we could only pick up work in a certain catchment area and that the accounts would only be as current as the last visit.

The situation now? Now, we can keep clients' accounts up-to-date - so when they access the system they will be presented with a balance, which is correct. Also, we are able to offer them the Open Accounts package, which is a much more advanced and flexible accounts package, compared to the Sage and Pegasus systems that most use. These packages are normally used by companies with a turnover of £5m whereas Open Accounts is the package for companies turning over somewhere in the region of £10m-£20m. This is because Open Accounts is a packaged supported by Vistorm.

We pay £300 per user per month for five users and our clients accessing the system from their end pay £300 per user. There are no additional costs for things such as Internet usage, and the clients don't have the hassle of setting up modems etc.

We have had very few teething problems - only in the areas like configuring printers. We are now looking for payroll software that will run on the ASP model. This will enable people to clock on over the network.

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