>On Demand Software and Enterprise Architecture

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The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), 19 September 2007 reported that SAP, the German technology giant (and world’s largest business software company—especially known for its enterprise resource planning software), will be offering on demand software to help capture more business among faster growing small and medium size firms. The advantage of this internet based appplication service model is that smaller companies who don’t have the money to purchase the otherwise pricey software, can now purchase on a pay as you go subscription service model.

Interestingly, the WSJ article does not identify this model as an application service provider (ASP), which is a business that provides computer-based services to customers over a wide area network, even though this is exactly what it is!

In general, there are a number of benefits touted to a organization using ASP services, and these are:

  • The ASP service provider owns, operates, and mainains the software and servers.
  • The ASP service provider adheres to service level agreement for availability, accessibility, and security.
  • The ASP provider ensures regular updates to the application software
  • Costs are spread on a pay as you go basis.

However on the downside, using ASP model limits (or excludes) your ability as a customer to customize the software or to integrate it with other non-ASP systems. Additionally, the customer organization may experience a general sense of loss of control by “outsourcing” the application, underlying technology infrastructure, and data store to an outside vendor.

ASP were a big deal around the turn of the 21st century when “the ASP Industry Consortium was formed in May 1999 by 25 leading technology companies. Founding companies included AT&T Corp., Cisco Systems Inc., Compaq Computer Corp., GTE Corp., IBM Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc., and UUNET Technologies.” (adapted from http://ecommerce.hostip.info)

For some reason, ASP seems to have become a “dirty word”. Even the latest market estimates for ASPs in Wikipedia dates back to 2003. Also, a quick Google search for applications service providers brings up a lot of information dated between 1999-2003. Even the current aspindustry.org website looks like crap. Apparently ASPs have all but fallen off the map in the last 4 years!

From a User-centric EA standpoint, the (ASP) model for on demand software is an option that should be carefully considered, based on the pros and cons for your particular organization, in developing target architecture for the enterprise. Indeed, many applications (like SAP) are being deployed using the ASP web application model, and we can expect this service to grow as an option, whether or not it is called an ASP in the future. Hey, maybe that’s what happened to A-S-P – it got transposed to S-A-P!