ABT raises the bar on ASP fuss-pots

While application service providers (ASPs) have been quibbling over lack-lustre broadband and the immaturity of consumers, accounting integrator ABT Solutions has been quietly and successfully selling the service for the last 18 months.

The company has been running six pilots over the last two years using a variety of delivery mechanisms including ISDN, frame relay, VPN and PSTN (dial up modems), according to Frank O'Donoghue, director of ABT. All have been successful and the integrator is setting its sights on more ambitious projects to the magnitude of 400-seats.

"We have no interest in publicising it," O'Donoghue said, choosing instead to grow the solution at a sustainable rate. ABT has consciously shied away from calling the service 'application service provision (ASP)' or 'outsourcing' because of the disparaging associations. Instead, they are going with the term 'bureau'.

"People think that because [the bureau service] is sold on a rent-roll basis it's an easy sell," said O'Donoghue. "In reality all the same elements apply to a bureau sale as to an on-site installation. The sales cycle is the same and there is no less risk or responsibility on either the customer or the vendor."

O'Donoghue believes the mentality "if I build it they will come" has been the greatest downfall for potential 'bureaus'. For ABT, the service has developed naturally through demand and O'Donoghue said customers will make the transition quite randomly from an in-house model to an outsourced solution, and back again.

"It is a matter of pros and cons," he said. "The loss of control and security issues versus the reduced expenditure on hardware and the top quality service and support that businesses otherwise couldn't afford."

However, there are a few other catches to the outsourcing model. For example, not all accounting packages are capable of running over the existing back-end infrastructure. "Certain applications are restricted to broadband technology," explains O'Donoghue. People shouldn't write off Unix, it is a fantastic environment for running outsourced accounting applications along with its close cousin Linux, he said.