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June 30, 2000

Outsourcing Nets Benefits

By Brent Delehey

Companies can now create more than just a Web site that displays their office address and marketing materials. They can customize their sites with functions and interactive features that include feeds from data sources and electronic communications among employees, clients and vendors.

These solutions' eliminate information overload and improve communication. In the end, companies save time and money.

The objective is for non-Internet companies to learn how to create an Internet presence that can compete with successful dot-com companies conceived on the Internet. Traditional business models are different from Internet business models in customer service style, organizational structure, marketing strategy, employees' qualifications and in other areas.

Fierce Competition

The Internet increases competition. This is a game of the dot-com companies versus the traditional brick-and-mortar companies.

However, an Internet presence is not meant to replace the traditional business strategy. It should enhance it.

When developing a customized solution, the old adage of "if you want something done right, do it yourself" is a fallacy. Highly qualified employees must be hired to design a site. That's difficult in today's U.S. job market. Scarce internal resources can be allocated more efficiently, nonetheless, if a company outsources the development and maintenance of its Internet-based solution.

But first it's important to find a provider with industry expertise: a vertically focused provider that offers strategic insight into the company's needs.

In the financial services industry, the aim of Internet-based solutions is to help firms manage and use strategic information to increase investment returns, generate sales and build closer relationships with customers. The provider ensures that the customized solution can be easily integrated into the company's existing Internet effort. That increases the value of the company's Internet-based initiatives through enhanced content, design, and technology.

Picture an institutional money manager who needs earnings estimates, equity and fixed income research from multiple brokers, internal announcements and corporate news releases from relevant companies - all in real-time.

Multiple news wires, vendors and broker-run Web sites are inefficient. A custom-built site accessible from the Internet, a corporate intranet or extranet, can provide a single gateway to this information, customized to meet each user's needs.

ASP Services

Application Service Providers, or ASPs, offer numerous hosting arrangements, remote applications management, and other outsourcing services. A financial services ASP, for example, can provide the traditional outsourcing services as well as the industry knowledge and content. A financial services ASP will have a broad knowledge of the industry and, therefore, the know-how to customize solutions for the various markets, sectors and companies.

Outsourcing to a vertically focused provider will also allow for the rapid deployment of a customized solution. Solutions outsourced to a financial services ASP average about 60-90 days to develop, compared with an average of 12 months for internal development, according to research conducted by First Call Corp.

More Support

Ongoing support is another benefit. The service an ASP provides does not end after the brief development period. An effective financial services ASP will be available after the release for ongoing maintenance, support, and further customization as required by the customer.

A financial services ASP will become intimately familiar with the customers' needs. This ASP will develop special features including usage statistics, e-mail alerts, and an on-line library of financial Internet sites indexed by company and region.

The benefits of outsourcing to an application service provider far outweigh those of internal development. Outsourcing to a financial services ASP creates a customized solution, and a more efficient development and usage of the solution. It also allows for more efficient allocation of internal resources, leaving more time for the company to focus on its primary objective: growing a successful business.

Brent Delehey, C.F.A., is president and chief executive officer of First Call Corp., a Thomson Financial company that operates application service provider FIRST CALL Interactive.