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The 10 Most Important Issues To Address When Hiring An ASP

Once you've developed your shortlist of ASP providers, John Harney tells you the 10 criteria that will help you narrow down your choices even further.
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Rarely will potential customers for ASP services evaluate only one ASP candidate and go with it. It's more likely they will come up with a shortlist of several candidates and, through interviews, narrow the list down to the one or two best possible service providers. It's usually best to always evaluate several candidates to be safe. It's fairly easy to identify high-level candidates based on high-level criteria such as the type of application you want to lease (CRM, ERP, etc.) and the vertical market you are in (finance, insurance, etc.). Once you've selected five or six ASPs according to these factors, comparative shopping requires more specialized know-how. Here are 10 criteria that will help you narrow down your choices further from there.

That said; you'd be smart not to make a final selection based only on this round of evaluation. In my book, Application Service Providers (ASPs): A Manager's Guide, I list more than 400 detailed questions to ask your final candidate to make sure it meets all of your unique business, technology, and price requirements. Don't be afraid to get this granular. The ASP business and technology models are complex, so ASPs merit this kind of scrutiny. For our purposes here, though, 10 evaluation criteria will have to suffice. They will give you a good idea what you'll be up against when you do make your choice. So address these questions with the ASP right up front.

1. Are You Comfortable with the ASP's Approach to Major Data Center Issues Such as Backup, Disaster-Proofing, and Data and Physical Security?

The data center is the heart of any ASP operation. The servers, applications, storage devices, firewalls, performance monitoring devices, and other equipment are all located here—as are most of the ASP personnel. So visit the data center first of all. By visiting, you can better determine the facility's physical security. For example: Are the grounds patrolled and monitored by video? Are the exits and entrances manned? Does the ASP use biometric security devices such as fingerprint scanning?

You should also check out the ASP's disaster-proofing measures. For example: Is there seismic bracing for equipment cages? Are there waterless fire suppression? Backup generators?

Data security and backup are a little harder to confirm onsite, but at least make sure that data is backed up routinely to another facility that's not located on the same regional power grid, and that tapes of all data are stored nightly in a fireproof safe. Probably the best way to guarantee that the ASP can handle your data security is to first determine and then verify that the ASP can meet your Recovery Time Objectives (RTOs), which are windows of time during which you must recover your applications and data.

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