Leveraging Technology to Maintain a Competitive Edge During Tough Economic Times -- A Panel Discussion Analyzed
Part Three: Applications Hosting
the IFS Executive Forum, which took place on March 29 and 30
in Orlando, Florida (US), leading research analysts and industry experts discussed
how companies can still leverage technology to maintain their competitive edge,
even during tough economic times. The event was held in conjunction with IFS
World Conference 2004, and it included six panel discussions, with
each panel including top executives, analysts, and journalists. Some of the
renowned panelists were Geoff Dodge, vice president, Business Week;
Dave Caruso, senior vice president, AMR Research; Barry Wilderman,
vice president, Meta Group; Leo Quinn, vice president of operations,
Global Manufacturing Solutions, Rockwell Automation; Dave Brousell,
editor-in-chief, Managing Automation; David Berger, Western
Management Consultants; and Josh Greenbaum, principal, Enterprise
Applications Consulting. Breakout sessions explored such topics as
turning global competitive threats into opportunities, increasing the bottom
line through operational efficiency, complying with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of
2002, and using enterprise software to prepare for future challenges.
Evaluation Centers (TEC) was represented at the executive
panel titled "The Future of Enterprise Software and How It Impacts Your Profitability",
which was aimed at helping companies find out where enterprise software is going
in the next five years, and how it can make or break their profitability and
market share. The panel, which was moderated by Josh Greenbaum, included the
following participants: Barry Wilderman; Peggy Smedley, president and editorial
director; Start Magazine; Dave Turbide, an independent consultant
and renowned columnist for magazines such as The Manufacturing Systems;
and Predrag Jakovljevic, research director, TEC. In preparation for the event,
we polled the thoughts and opinions of our experts and contributors: Olin Thompson,
Jim Brown, Joseph Strub, Kevin Ramesan, and Lou Talarico, given they were unable
to attend the event in person.
are the questions and consolidated thoughts and answers that transpired from
the panel discussion. We also took the liberty to expand with a few pertinent
questions and thoughts that were not discussed at the panel per se (due to the
time limit), but transpired from many other interactions and presentations at
the conference. Also, some pertinent articles published previously on our site,
which may shed more light at the respective topic are mentioned as further recommended
What is the one piece of new software or technology that will be a must-have
in the next five years? (see Part
Some pundits say the future of enterprise software lies in service-oriented
architectures and component applications. True? False?
How does the development of new business processes and business
process modeling fit in? (see Part
What are applications hosting and other service models? (see
Radio frequency identification (RFID) is on everyone's mind
these days. Let's discuss the software issues around RFID and what kind of software
solutions will be taking advantage of RFID. (see Part Four)
Technology aside for a moment, what can we say about its impact on profitability?
(see Part Five)
With all this new technology, the question is what happens to existing applications
and technology. Nobody wants to start over, but how much will existing
IT systems have to change? (see Part Five)
Will the newest and greatest only come from packaged software? What about custom
development? What is the build versus buy equation look like in the
near future? (see Part Six)
How will the latest improvements in software flexibility and agility play in
the single-vendor versus multi-vendor solution
equation at multi-division corporations? (see Part Six)
is Part Three of a multi-part trend note.
of the parts covers questions and answers addressed by the panel.
Questions and Answers (continued)
What are applications hosting and other service models?
Applications hosting is a model where another company runs the software for
a user company, which may or may not own the software license. The hosting party
could be the vendor, or some third party, often called an applications service
provider (ASP). The value proposition is that some user companies prefer
to outsource or pass the customary complexity of maintaining the enterprise
application in-house onto these specialized providers. Often, hosted applications
can be purchased on a "rental" basis instead of buying the software license
by paying a subscription price per user per month. This model might be compelling
because it has lower entry costs, and if the company is not realizing value
from the software, it can always stop using it (and stop paying for it). Almost
all of the initial hosted applications have been targeted at small and medium
latest idea, however, is the utility (OnDemand) computing, sometimes referred
to as "grid" computing as well, a trend that has captured the attention of technology
heavyweights including IBM, Hewlett-Packard,
Oracle, and Sun Microsystems, which is to
allow customers to purchase processing power and access software as it is needed,
much as they do with electricity, telephone or water. This still morphing and
emerging model might be attractive to large organizations as well.
most of the first-generation hosted applications were not suitable for delivery
over the Internet and certainly not appropriate for the small and medium-sized
businesses for which the ASP model was regarded as being the most appropriate.
Lately though, the difficult economy has created a situation where customers,
particularly those with multiple dispersed locations worldwide, seem to prefer
the subscription model, as capital budgets have been slashed, and everyone would
prefer to avoid one up-front lump payment instead stretching it over a prolonged
period of time. Although the move from software as a standalone, or pre-packaged,
solution to software as a service will not happen overnight, because of the
unsustainable financial model of many early ASPs and many past hosting snafus,
in a few year's time, gigantic IT providers such as IBM, EDS,
Microsoft, Oracle, Accenture and the like
will likely be competing in the ASPs market. This will thereby give hosting
another fresh breath of air. Also, the mindset of the users has changed significantly
over the yeas, so that certain operations like taxation of some big multinational
organizations are nowadays being increasingly processed by third party companies.
ASPs that have meanwhile positively thrived have done so by first focusing on
one or two core areas, such as sales force automation (SFA); e-mail;
HR and payroll or financial software, and by offering only their own software,
written from ground up entirely to an Internet-based architecture, and running
on shared servers to minimize costs. In addition to deployment flexibility (i.e.,
a possibility of selecting which individual applications will be run on premises
or hosted), the advantage is when the vendor is an ASP as well. While many vendors
also provide a hosting alternative, they have to do it through third ASP parties,
which often may mean some additional licensing or implementation and service
and support intricacies to the end user. This could make winning difference
to some customers who prefer to deal solely with one vendor. As to solve the
problem of integrating to existing legacy applications, vendors and ASPs have
also been looking to Web services, but it will be some time before the above-described
technology is mature enough to be able to replace the traditional pesky message
brokers and integration hubs that major companies depend on, but which are still
the better solution for high-volume processing than Web services.
in addition to improvements in security and reduced prices of bandwidth that
bode well for hosting adoption, ASP software nowadays finally looks and feels
more like traditional "rich UI" client/server applications because of the use
side and, possibly even more important, the development of dynamic Hyper
Text Markup Language (DHTML). DHTML, which allows Web content to change
each time it is viewed (by enabling a Web page to react to user input without
sending requests to the Web server). This, in particular, has introduced a degree
of interactivity to web-based applications that was simply not possible a few
years ago when users were either forced to fill in and submit cumbersome HTML
forms, or they had to run additional thin client software, such as Citrix
MetaFrame, on their desktops. Neither of these approaches has been
satisfactory and, while thin client software had seemingly promised a good solution,
it still had a number of shortcomings.
First, it increased costs because the software had to be licensed on a per user basis, often causing the cost of the Citrix MetaFrame license to account for more than half of the less-than-enticing monthly fee. Second, that approach was slow and increased the load on the network at a time when bandwidth was at a premium price, because the screen was effectively being "rendered" miles away from where the user was actually located. Finally, users still had to run and maintain the proprietary thin client software on their desktops, defeating the object of running server-centric, web-based software and, therefore, not cutting costs by as much as originally promised.
Outsourcing Advantages and Disadvantages
fixed cost for a customer.
Reduced setup and configuration time, and greater operational simplicity.
All upgrades applied to ASP site based servers. No need for client or desktop
Limited funds required for initial startup.
Reduced need for internal IT support.
Enterprise package maintenance performed automatically by external experts.
is still nascent, with customers being early adopters.
Potential security risk, since customers' confidential and mission-critical
data reside at the ASP's location.
Becomes more costly over a long run, especially with declining traditional
software license fees.
Offers little or no support for software modifications or customizations and
integration to key legacy systems.
Decreased control over infrastructure and deployment.
Limited to direct access points for your ASP or need for secondary Internet
access account depending on users mobility plans.
Little to no control over hardware and software upgrades.
Support costs are essentially negated and a monthly per user charge is assumed.
the following types of enterprises should consider using ASP services:
with limited investment capital and those that do not have an IT department.
Those that do not anticipate a high rate of change in the way they do business.
Those investing in an application to streamline costs rather than to enhance
Those that can jettison most of the organization's aged legacy infrastructure.
Those that lack resources for the rapid implementation of a distinct project
that possibly does not require complex integration with existing applications
(e.g., HR and payroll administration, e-mail, etc.).
bad perceptions of the largely ill-fated first generation of hosted providers,
and owing to the positive news that some vendors like Oracle, Salesforce.com,
ACCPAC or NetSuite have lately gained from
outsourcing, mid-market enterprises might benefit from objectively evaluating
the value propositions represented in successful next-generation ASPs. Look
for the following characteristics amongst the ASP candidate providers:
to reasonable customization and interfacing to legacy systems
Service-oriented architectures (SOAs), Internet-based architecture, and standards-based
Support for specific vertical industries or business processes
Hybrid services that can coexist with on-site systems
Sound policies for privacy and security
A sound track record of service-level agreement (SLA) maintenance
at originally quoted price levels and a quick ROI
Sound financial viability and geographic coverage
ability to track and provide key metrics for application and network availability.
more information, see the following recommended readings: Hosting
concludes Part Three of a multipart trend note.
of the parts covers questions and answers addressed by the panel.