SmartAdvice: Consider Commercial Software Or An ASP To Provide A Management System - InformationWeek

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IT Leadership // IT Strategy
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SmartAdvice: Consider Commercial Software Or An ASP To Provide A Management System

Off-the-shelf software or an ASP could meet most of your company's needs for a work-order-management system, The Advisory Council says. Also, consider whether you want to outsource your security functions at all, and then whether you want to outsource offshore.

Editor's Note: Welcome to SmartAdvice, a weekly column by The Advisory Council (TAC), an advisory service firm. The feature answers three questions of core interest to you, ranging from career advice to enterprise strategies to how to deal with vendors. Submit questions directly to [email protected]

Question A: What factors should we consider in selecting a facilities work-order-management system?

Our advice: On the surface, choosing a facility work-order-management system might look like a difficult problem that requires highly specialized and customized software. On the contrary, with a bit of advance planning and careful determination of the real project requirements, it's likely that you'll be able to find a commercial solution that will meet 80% to 90% of your needs for a moderate cost.

The first step is to identify the exact requirements that will meet the company's minimum needs. How many work orders would you process per year? What's the average size and complexity? Are they all similar, such as cable modem installations, for example, or are they each unique? Once these criteria have been established, researching the right system becomes a matter of matching the solution with the requirements. Look for an application that meets at least 80% of the design criteria with only minimal configuration and customization. Unless there are some highly specialized application requirements, take advantage of software developed for similar industries and processes. Many of the system requirements could be met by a vendor-management system designed specifically for the construction or facilities-management industries. Using commercially available software is generally a good value, unless the business application is truly unique.

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Another approach would be to consider an application service provider. With no need for new hardware, and minimum configuration or customization, deploying a comprehensive ASP solution can be a very cost-effective approach in the short term. The advantages of using an ASP are that deployment and configuration can be completed in a matter of weeks rather than months, and the company doesn't need to worry about building and maintaining IT infrastructure to support the system—that's all part of the package. These systems are Web-based and generally accessible from anywhere (with proper authentication), so field personnel access is built-in, even in rough conditions. Most ASPs are priced on a per-seat basis, which fits well with a small but growing company that's concerned with minimizing costs. There are a number of them on the market with a variety of features and price structures.

In conclusion, vendor and construction project-management software has become more sophisticated, less expensive, and more intuitive in recent years. You would do well to refine the requirements and look for a commercial system that meets the majority of them as is. Take advantage of the experience and knowledge of the application vendors. The ASP industry has matured over the past few years. As long as the solution meets most of the requirements, it's an excellent method for mid-sized and new companies to ramp up their IT applications rapidly with minimal initial investment.

--Beth Cohen

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