Microsoft's B2B Partners Going ASP
We're moving into an era in which most of Microsoft Corp.'s applications are becoming readily available on an as-needed basis from application service providers (ASPs) -- and that's OK with Microsoft. That message rang out loud and clear at Microsoft's (www.microsoft.com
) midsummer Fusion conference in Atlanta, which spotlighted ISVs and other partners that are rolling out applications from Microsoft and other software companies for use on a rental basis.
Microsoft appears to be supportive of these efforts. Redmond announced a slew of new programs meant to help its ASP allies increase revenue and take advantage of Microsoft's new .NET initiatives. The first offerings will include a certification program specifically for ASPs, and .NET-oriented content for Microsoft's operations, readiness, and solutions frameworks.
In addition, Microsoft announced that it is offering Windows 2000, SQL Server 2000, Exchange 2000 Server and Office 2000 to ASPs so they can be delivered as hosted services through subscription licensing. This program, based on feedback from industry partners that participated in a pilot program over the past nine months, provides a simplified and consistent way to commercially license all Windows DNA products, Exchange 2000, and Office 2000.
The Web-based Microsoft Certified Solutions Provider (MCSP) portal, which had been primarily targeted at value added resellers, will be opened to all developers and partners. Outside partners will also gain first-time access to Knowledge Community, an online forum previously open only to Microsoft staffers. The community provides for the sharing of "packaged know how," such as technical commentary, Q&As with experts, and a set of proven solutions selected from submissions by community members.
Microsoft is gearing these .NET initiatives to four emerging types of ASPs, says Ian Rogoff, vice president of the enterprise services and partner group at Microsoft. These consist of ISVs, system integrators (SIs), aggregators, and enablers such as Web hosting centers. True to Rogoff's words, many of the partners present at the Fusion conference were ISVs or SIs evolving into new roles as ASPs. Although some of the ASP exhibitors were start-ups, others included well-known names such as Electronic Data Systems Corp. (EDS, www.eds.com) and OneSoft Corp. (www.onesoft.com).
Applications being offered for rental by new business-to-business ASPs range from packaged Microsoft software to Web-based custom solutions for IT professionals and other specialized audiences. Personable.com (www.personable.com), for example, is already renting access to Microsoft Office from hosted servers at a monthly cost of $49.99 per user. The MS Office service is intended to spare small businesses of the chores associated with application management, company officials say. Personable.com is also offering a private label program for resellers, plus an affiliate program for other Web site purveyors. Under the affiliate program, the affiliate earns a one-time commission of $5.00 each time a visitor follows a link to Personable.com from the affiliated site and subscribes to software through Personable for at least two months.
The consulting giant EDS announced an on-demand hosting service that lets businesses subscribe to either Office or Exchange on a per user/per month basis.
Not all of the ASPs at Fusion were recent converts to the new business model. Take, for example, OneSoft, an ISV specializing in XML-based e-commerce infrastructure and application services. Microsoft first approached OneSoft some time ago about acting as an ASP, says Tom Young, senior vice president at OneSoft. In one application, OneSoft is hosting and managing a custom solution for ePhones (www.ephones.com), a company that sells cell phones over the Web. OneSoft is using XSL stylesheets to present variations of the ePhones site to different audiences, such as resellers, business customers, and consumers. The system also includes Microsoft SQL Server and XML connectors to financial and sales ordering software from Great Plains Software Inc. (www.greatplains.com) and Siebel Systems Inc. (www.siebel.com).
At Fusion, OneSoft demonstrated a prototype of a WAP-based addition to the ePhones site, showing how content can be accessed from wireless screenphones. OneSoft views the WAP application as a possible consumer play for the ePhones site, as well as a method of alerting phone makers' sales staffs to large business orders. OneSoft has been talking to Redmond about migrating the application to Microsoft's BizTalk DNA Server, sources say.
License Online Inc. (www.licenseonline.com) has been building an ASP service targeted at IT pros in the small to midsize business channel. Subscribers receive a free, customized e-commerce storefront for their Web sites. Other services include customer quote management, product ordering, and access to license experts. The company is extending multiple billing options, including leasing. License Online already has a database of 20,000 registered channel partners.