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Like Railtrack but with Fibre

Businessman Paul King, believes that BT’s OpenWorld Broadband service is so bad that it’s cost him as much as £30,000 in lost and interrupted business and so strongly does he feel about the matter, that he’s apparently taken his protest to the BT offices, parading his grievance on a sandwich board.

The future is Broadband and that naturally means BT. Well of course it does but reconciling the reality of our domestic market with the platitudes, promises and the rhetoric contained in their latest publicity drive are another matter entirely.

“Get yourself an ASP, ASAP”, screamed the banner headline on page twelve of BT’s newspaper Broadband supplement. “Why not outsource this work to somebody what already has the necessary know-how”? Was the subtitle. I almost collapsed in a puddle of helpless laughter.

It was November of 2000 when I chaired one of the big ASP events at the Novotel in London and Sally Davis, the President of BT Ignite told the audience why BT was going to become the biggest and baddest ASP of them all. In fact, BT had research that showed quite clearly that SMEs would adopt the ASP proposition en masse, by about now. I was tempted to describe the company’s plans as being rather close to the “Small drinks party in a brewery” school of thinking but I was too polite and time and the looming ASP catastrophe, proved me right.

“ASPs have been around for several years but have not really taken off”, says BT’s ASP Director Furnston. Well, there’s an understatement if ever I read one. It’s rather like saying the Black Death was bad for small business. Today’s survivors of the decimated ASP market are mostly those who have learned some very hard business lessons, sprinkled with those who had enough cash to ride out the storm, such as Cable & Wireless, with their very expensive and abortive (A) Services deal with Compaq.

BT, a company that never took any part in the UK’s ASP Community, have like the other survivors, shied away from the acronym and are describing their service as “Subscription Computing”, a novel way of saying managed services. What frightens me, is that the Sunday Times supplement is very obviously aimed at readers who don’t know their ASP from their A*s and so, come Monday morning, the Managing Directors of companies all over the UK will be walking into their IT Directors offices, saying “This ASP thing, sounds like a good idea to me”.

Broadband Britain. It’s a wonderful idea and one day, we’ll all be connected to broadband and won’t think twice about subscription computing, which is, I believe, very much the shape of IT to come. But before that happens we need to learn from the mistakes of the ASP industry from the very beginning.

Once upon a time, some very large companies and telcos, encouraged by Citrix and Microsoft, came together and decided that the next evolution in information technology would be the ASP. Nobody really bothered to ask the customers, who were expected to do as they were told and nobody enquired too deeply about the ability of the infrastructure and the software to support the idea. It was all about money, moving the market from irregular upgrade revenue to a regular, constant and predictable source of subscription revenue.

And so, collectively, the industry, led by the now defunct ASP Consortium, announced “Let there be light”. And there wasn’t…….

Today, we live in a very different world. We are more educated and more focused on the return on investment and productivity arguments behind new ideas. The ASP experience also taught us to take collective predictions from the big players with a health warning. ASP is now something else and you can choose from over eight different ideas and acronyms but what is certain is that it’s starting to blend invisibly into the world of Web Services where it sits most comfortably. What concerns me, reading the Sunday Times, is that BT, trumpeting the Broadband message, still doesn’t grasp technology and it still leaves me with a vague nationalized industry feel to the message, like Railtrack but with fiber.

Can I find ten companies from among our readers that would confidently outsource their computing to BT? If so, please come forward and tell me why!

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