At a function hosted by software vendor Citrix, systems integrators (SIs) have been touted as the ideal channel partners for companies wishing their applications hosted, managed and delivered via an application service provider (ASP).
Touted as an "ASP debate", a panel of vendors, ASPs and their customers agreed wholeheartedly on most issues, particularly on what skills and heritage an ASP needs to be successful.
"It's been the systems integrators, people with experience in hardware and software, that have come to the fore," said Phil Osborne, business development manager of iBusiness at Citrix Systems Asia Pacific.
Phil Lancaster, a Citrix systems integration partner-cum-ASP, agreed. "Understanding a client's needs is important, and an integrator tends to have had that experience." Lancaster was accompanied by one of his ASP customers, who also advocated the SI as the perfect ASP partner.
"We went with Express Apps because they have plenty of experience at doing boring SI work for boring companies, making things happen in the boring real world," mused Paul Talkington, chief financial officer for Northline Transport.
Another reason SIs are popular as ASP partners, again agreed unanimously by all presenters at the debate, is because the ASP model involves technical complexities that give systems integrators a significant value-add proposition. "Applications still require customisation on the ASP platform," said Jonathan Klug, managing director of ASP Com Tech Central. "It's not about just delivering [Microsoft] Office or Exchange. There wouldn't be enough technical complexity for us to provide a value-add."
Klug said the most likely users of an ASP are services organisations that are reliant on technology, as its failure would completely reduce their productivity. It also suits those organisations that are geographically scattered. "These issues add a layer of complexity, which is seen as an opportunity for providers like ourselves," he said.
But Klug suggested that even the most solid systems integrators don't have all the ingredients to make the ASP model work, and need to look at utilising the skills and assets of other channel players. "We have been working with hosting specialists and telcos. It's all about finding the right mix," he said. "In a lot of ways we are eating our own dog food. For example, we are outsourcing the hosting to Optus' data centre in Ultimo because we didn't have $35 million to spend on building one."
Gartner analyst Rolf Jester concluded that the biggest challenge for systems integrators becoming ASPs is creating brand awareness. "People are beginning to understand that [the ASP model] is not necessarily a way to save money," he said. "And barriers like reliable access, and security and integrity are easily addressed concerns. The reputation of the company is the number one concern. ASPs have to establish themselves as a trusted brand in their target market."