ASPs today offer nearly any service a company might need. Many of these services (like e-mail, Web hosting, ad serving, invoicing and bill delivery, payroll, etc.) are mission critical. It is therefore important to make sure that the ASPs you choose will handle your information and relationship in a mission-critical way. Here are a set of questions you should ask any ASP:
- How do customers access the software? Is it through a browser or an application? If it is through a browser, how does the user experience feel?
- How are customer service issues resolved? If you (or employees) have questions and/or problems with the software, what happens? Does the ASP provide training?
- How secure is the data? You want to find out about internal security policies with ASP employees, passwords and access reports to protect your employees, firewall and other safeguards against external attack, and things like tape backups to handle hardware failures.
- How secure is the connection between the ASP and the user? Data flows between the ASP and the user whenever the user accesses it. Is it secured by encryption, a VPN, proprietary techniques or some other system?
- How is the application served? Is your data on a dedicated machine or a shared machine? Both techniques are common and you often have a choice (with dedicated service being more expensive).
- How does the ASP handle redundancy? If a machine fails or an Internet pipe goes down, what levels of redundancy are in place to keep your servers online?
- How does the ASP handle hardware/software problems? If a hard disk fails or the application hangs, what are the policies in place around recovery?
- How does the ASP handle a disaster? If the building were to burn down or a hurricane came through, how would the ASP handle the complete loss of the facility? How long would it be before the ASP restored service?
- Who owns the data? Obviously, the customer should, but this fact should be stated in the contract.
- How can I get the data out if I choose to select a new ASP two years from now? This is a tricky question on more complicated applications, and one that bears some thought for mission-critical applications.
- How can I move data between existing applications and the ASP? For example, if you have a home-grown ledger system and want to move data back and forth to a billing ASP, how would that work? Many ASPs have already thought of this and handle it very well.
There are probably many other questions specific to your situation, especially for advanced applications. If the ASP covers all of these bases well, then it is likely that the ASP can support your business adequately.
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