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To keep track of the paperwork, many manufacturers have sought answers in computer programs, and software companies have responded. More than 30 providers now offer ISO software that users can deploy in their offices and factories to handle complex ISO documentation tasks.
But what if a manufacturer does not want to make the investment to acquire and operate such software on its own computer? What if the idea of installing a program, updating it when new versions come out, and troubleshooting computer problems is not something a company is able or willing to do? What if a company doesn't have the resources to maintain and secure the software files once its data is in the system? What if a company just wants to focus on what it does best, which is to build product?
For these shops, a growing number of so-called Application Service Providers (ASPs) are now offering ISO software that users can access via the Internet, without the hassle of running and maintaining the system in-house. The list of ASPs with ISO 9000-compliant offerings includes Core Business Solutions (Denver), IQS Inc. (Cleveland), ISO9 (Oakland, CA) and Prism eSolutions (Blue Bell, PA).
When a manufacturing company contracts with an ASP, it is not buying software; in essence it is renting time on somebody else's computer. Core Business Solutions offers access to an ISO 9000-compliant document management system called DocBase Direct, for instance. But instead of residing on the user's factory computer, the DocBase application is "delivered from our company's servers through the Internet, and is accessed by customers through their Web browsers," explains Scott Dawson, Core Business Solutions president. "So for customers, there are no IT installations, support or costs required."
An ASP typically maintains and regularly updates the programs, stores the users' documents and puts them into usable form. Instead of a company having to wade through reams of paper documents or operate a computer network with its ensuing labor and equipment costs, the ASP manager performs these tasks. All a company needs is the ability to get on the Internet. As with all Web-based products, documents are accessible at all hours from anywhere in the world.
"The reasons for outsourcing vs. doing it in-house are basically cost and resource issues," says John Cachat, president of IQS. These issues include software management, software ownership, hardware, and most importantly, security.
ASPs can help put smaller companies on an equal footing with big firms because they do not require investment in a large information technology department, proponents say. Users can rely on the ASP to handle that end of the business. The cost can range as low as $50 a month, depending on the service.
Mike DePasquale, president of Prism eSolutions, calls an ASP an equalizer. "It gives the small- or medium-sized company the same power that only a very large company could afford up until this technology was available."
But is it secure?
There are two main issues when it comes to utilizing an ASP. One is the dependence on the Internet. Sometimes the Internet goes down, the ASP has technical problems or the system just runs slowly. Security is the biggest issue, however, and these ASPs go to great lengths to protect their users' data. From a security standpoint, the companies use encryption and firewalls to stop hackers, and redundant servers in multiple locations to protect against fires, computer crashes or other potential problems.
Prism eSolutions, for instance, identifies four main components of its security system: physical security of the facility and server; the infrastructure of the computer system to make it safe from hackers; securing data as it is transmitted back and forth between customers and the server; and application layer secu-rity that allows only authorized users to access information. Prism, like other ASP companies, uses redundant servers, encryption technology, passwords and authorization levels to secure the data.
Using an ASP may not be for everybody, according to Tim Burke, president of Cebos Ltd. (Southfield, MI), which offers the MQ1 software that uses an open database technology. Cebos can provide the package via an ASP model, but Burke says he has not had any requests to do so. By taking delivery of the software and running it on its own computers, "the customer maintains control of the data," Burke observes. Potential loss of control "seems to be a huge issue," he adds, "and the biggest problem with the adoption of the ASP model."
- With an Application Service Provider, a company does not have to start an IT department. It can focus on its business.
- The data is secured through redundant server systems and encryption technology.
- It allows smaller companies to generate ISO quality documents without having to invest in new technology or labor to run the computer systems.
- It provides real-time reporting and updates and is accessible at all hours from anywhere in the world
For more information about these Application Service Providers, contact:
Core Business Solutions