Growth in ASPs fuels demand for workers

Analysts predict that revenue generated by Application Service Providers (ASPs) could reach more than $7 billion by 2004. In this week's Tech Watch, Bob Weinstein explains how high-tech workers can cash in on this growing software market.

Acronyms come and go in the technology industry. But ASP—short for Application Service Provider—is rapidly working its way into the popular tech lexicon.

How do ASPs work? Most technology users buy prepackaged software, load it, and manage the applications themselves. That’s fine if you’re patient and willing to wade through all kinds of technology snafus, rebuild when your system crashes, or clean up after it is invaded by a virus.

Under the ASP model, applications and most of the hardware are managed and maintained by an outside provider. Users just access the software they need when they need it via the Internet and are usually charged a monthly fee based upon usage.

ASPs are sprouting up all across the country, and ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) software companies like PeopleSoft and SAP are redesigning complex, client-server-based applications for the growing ASP market. The statistics describing the growth of the ASP market are reason enough to jump in.

Predictions and projections
It’s hard to lock into firm projections on the growing ASP market, but industry pundits predict aggressive growth. Forrester Research projects the software market will grow to $20.6 billion by 2003, with 25 percent of the revenues going to ASPs. International Data Corporation projects ASP revenues will catapult to $7.5 billion by 2004 compared to $300 million in 1999.

ASPs represent the future of technology, according to Rob Enderle, vice president of desktop and mobile computing for Giga Information Group in Cambridge, MA. “By mid-decade, most of the market will probably have moved there,” he said.

The growing ASP market translates into plenty of jobs, according to Gary Steele, CEO of Campbell, CA-based Portera, Inc., an ASP that prefers to be called a Vertical Service Provider or VSP (yet another acronym to swallow).

“We are fundamentally different than most ASPs because we built most of the software that we deliver over the Web ourselves,” says Steele. “And we also combine it with other functionality like Oracle applications.”

What ASPs need
Despite the distinction, Portera is as an ASP because it hosts applications. In that pursuit, the company needs talent that runs the gamut from entry-level to seasoned techies.

On the experience side, Steele says he needs “world-class operations people who can help us deliver our software over the Web as a reliable service. Ideally, these are people who have strong performance, tuning, measurement, and management skills. Our success is built around an operational process that delivers applications around the clock.”

Beyond operations people, Portera needs people who can build what Steele calls “highly scalable Internet applications that can be delivered in a hosted way.” That means programmers, software designers, Internet architects, and people with strong security backgrounds. Understandably, “security is a big issue with our customers,” adds Steele, making knowledge of firewall architecture another critical skill sought by ASPs.

ASPs offer techies an exceptional career path, according to Giga director Art Williams.

“ASPs provide an environment where techies will be appreciated because they’re so vital to operational success,” he said. “Many organizations see IT (Information Technology) people as a necessary evil or a misunderstood cost center. E-commerce companies are driven by business people. This is not the case with ASPs. It’s technical depth and precision that distinguishes them from their competitors.”

Williams also says ASPs are desperate for talented people.

“If you can breathe and have moderate technical skills, chances are an ASP is interested in talking to you,” he jokes. Most important to ASPs is the need for “firefighters,” troubleshooters who can instantly diagnose and solve problems. “System management is a priority. They also need LAN and system administration people,” Williams said.

Most ASPs need people with strong database skills, said Ilya Talman, president of Chicago, IL-based executive recruiting firm Roy Talman & Associates. “ASPs depend upon databases, which means they’re all looking for DBAs (Database Administrators). And they also need experienced people who can manage a large network.”

How do you land a job with an ASP? Start by getting basic Web skills, advises Steele.

“Polish your knowledge of HTML and Java, and take courses in database administration,” he said. “The idea is to take the technical skills you have and leverage them into new jobs.”

Most importantly, plug into the ASP market. Check out the following sites: The ASP Industry Consortium and ASP News.

Bob Weinstein's weekly syndicated column, Tech Watch, is the first career column covering the exploding technology marketplace to appear in major daily newspapers throughout the U.S.

Has your enterprise begun using an ASP? How well is it working? What problems have you found? What headaches has it eliminated? Post your comments below or send us an e-mail.

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