Making Sense of Service Providers - Page 2

Expanding Yellow Pages

In alphabetic order, a useful taxonomy of "xSPs" might run from the BSP (business service provider) to the SSP (security service provider). (We welcome nominations for ASP, or for TSP through ZSP, that are not themselves just umbrella labels once removed.)

Stripped of hype, the BSP is just the traditional service bureau, handling payroll, benefits, corporate credit card and expense reporting, and other traditional back-office functions. These tasks might as well have their overhead shared across a base of several companies because theres little competitive advantage to be gained in this domain.

Whats new is the delivery of these services via Web technologies, leveraging common standards to reduce administrative and technical support costs. When business services of this kind are delivered via the Web, the buyer should apply all the usual filters to those who come bidding for the business—references, performance guarantees and so on—plus additional criteria that prevent this tail from wagging the enterprise dog.

Plain-vanilla business service access should not put undue restrictions on client hardware, server architecture and the like; the convenience of the service providers development team should not dictate the clients IT road map.

CSP is a popular TLA (three-letter abbreviation), with at least two translations that ought to be on the shopping lists of most enterprise IT buyers: Commerce service providers, already handling secure credit card payments and other present-day e-business chores, offer the attractive future prospect of streamlining nationwide sales tax collections. When shopping for this kind of CSP, buyers should anticipate such complications in the commerce service environment (which will perhaps be further hampered by anti-terrorist measures to track activity in any number of newly sensitive commodities). Buyers should choose a service provider with resources to meet such demands.

Content service providers, another sort of CSP, help the enterprise portal operator attract and retain an audience by offering fresh and relevant information—shown by research to be the most important attribute of a successful Web presence—without creating a costly internal online publishing house. Many in-house pilot projects founder upon the discovery that content maintenance is an ongoing cost; using a content service provider gives operators the benefit of high-productivity site maintenance tools, with predictable budgets and without the burden of training in-house staff.

The MSP (management service provider) aids IT staff in the tiresome but necessary chore of asset tracking, a growing burden as portable and handheld devices become a larger fraction of the IT hardware base. Software license compliance, update management to assure IT client security and hardware loss prevention are all areas in which these providers can often pay their way. Key factors in selecting this kind of MSP are the ability to work with a variety of asset tracking technologies and readiness to integrate with a customers established reporting procedures.