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Article: ASPs and significant employment trends

Outsourcing: how it will affect your job

During 2003, an increasingly large band of companies elected to transfer responsibility for key IT systems to someone else. This trend is set to accelerate during 2004 and it has some potentially major consequences for the skills and capabilities demanded of both technical and commercial staff working in this burgeoning market for outsourced, managed solutions.

The ASP defined

The IT industry is full of Acronyms. ASP stands for 'Application Service Provider', although in the last two years this has been diluted through the use of other terms such as MSP (Managed Service Provider) and CSP (Cxxxx Service Provider). Essentially, an ASP allows business users of CRM, e-business or EAI applications, databases and ICT Infrastructure to reduce the cost of ownership of these systems. ASPs typically achieve this in one of two ways.

One approach involves replacing existing systems with faster and more powerful, internet-delivered, browser accessible systems hosted elsewhere.

A second approach sees the ASP remove the entire back-end of the system and managing, maintaining and upgrading it in a remotely located NOC (Network Operations Centre). Even after accounting for the cost of additional professional services for implementation, training and change management, the benefits to business are highly visible.

Using an ASP reduces the need for non high-tech firms to have to recruit and retain skilled ICT staff to manage systems they don't really understand in a nuts and bolts sense.

Using an ASP reduces the cost of ownership 'per seat' on applications since, generally, ASPs only charge for the time that systems are used, even though they are left 'switched on'. Additionally, maintenance costs are lessened and support is more effective.

Whilst early adoption in the post 'dot crash' period of 2001/2002 saw businesses hesitate before purchasing these new kind of ASP solutions, increasing confidence in 2003 saw companies like Inspective rocket into profitability as it developed its reputation as a leading European professional services consultancy specialising in advanced applications for sales, marketing, field and customer service.

Currently, no self-respecting software company will profess not to have at least a vested interest in being equipped to deliver or planning to deliver 'hosted solutions'. Particularly in areas such as CRM, payroll and human resource applications, businesses now welcome the opportunity to 'export' the responsibility of purchasing, upgrading and managing these essential ICT/MIS systems to someone else.

What has changed in terms of hiring staff

Idealpeople was lucky enough to be working with leading ASP companies including Aspective, Loudcloud, Digex and Exodus early on and won experience that equipped us to cope with a major surge in demand for a new type of individual suited to the ASP environment.

A whole new glossary of terms and acronyms had to be understood. Words like 'Production environment', 'Production Systems', 'High Availability' "24/7/365", NOC, Hosting/Hosted Solutions, 'Managed Services' were increasingly common in job descriptions. These terms all had to be understood fully and in context in order to equip businesses with the right staff.

Technically, we saw key trends develop and continue throughout 2003.

There was an increase in the demand for skills in non-windows operating systems administration. Sun Microsystems' Solaris platform was especially favoured by ASP businesses which value its robustness, reliability and security. Demand for LINUX systems administration also increased dramatically for similar reasons. Candidates bringing X-platform expertise were especially favoured.

There was a significant increase in demand throughout 2003 for people skilled in backup and data recovery technologies typified by the market-leading data storage products manufactured by Veritas. We saw a substantial rise in the number of vacancies within ASPs, which demanded individuals already equipped with experience of Online Backup, Clustering, SAN (Storage Area Networks), Quality Management and Disaster Recovery Planning.

Whilst Oracle and SQL Server seemed to be the database platforms of choice and most frequently seen in Job Descriptions, it was clear that it was not RDBMS specialists that were sought for DBA and Support roles, but 'generalists' with technical proficiency across other RDBMS systems, particularly Sybase, Informix, and DB2.

A new kind of networking professional was in demand. Traditional IP networking skills had to be supported by experience in areas such as IP Security, Application Provisioning and Content Management tools.

EAI skills proved popular and Application/Web Server Implementation, Development and Administration experience in leading products such as Websphere, Weblogic and Tibco increased within ASP companies.

Programmers and Developers had to be more versatile in 2003. Java/J2EE remained dominant as the language of choice, offering greater promise in terms of interoperability, but these traditional 'high-level' programming skills had to now had to be supplemented by knowledge of a range of web and scripting languages such as XML, ASP, Perl/PHP, HTML, CSS, Javascript, VBScript, XSL, WSAD and XSLT. C#, and Web Services were also more frequently called upon than in 2002, but Idealpeople predicts that 2004 will be the year of the .NET platform.

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