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Consortium Sets ASP Service Standards

The ASP Industry Consortium highlighted best practice models among ASPs yesterday (Nov 14th). It announced the winners of the first of its ASPire awards to recognise best practice among its members, and published new guidelines for security, service level agreements and contracts between providers and users.

The awards ceremony was held at the Consortium's booth on the show floor of the ASP Summit conference, taking place at COMDEX in Las Vegas this week. See separate story, ASPire Winners Show How It's Done.

The purpose of the new guidelines is to help ASPs design their services, while also advising customers what to look for when evaluating ASPs. "We needed to foster some baseline platforms in which the industry can grow and prosper," said the organisation's president Traver Gruen-Kennedy.

"An ASP needs to deliver a secure service that performs as good or better than existing systems, and they need to have responsiveness to customer concerns and issues as one of their highest priorities," said Gruen-Kennedy.

To that end, the Consortium announced the publication of three guides. A booklet on Key Security Issues for ASPs and Their Customers, available to the public via the Consortium's web site, is the first product of a new security subcommittee, formed during the summer.

Two other guides are available to members only, with executive summaries publicly downloadable from the website. A 75-page Guide to Service Level Agreements is designed to help ASPs and their partners develop and implement SLAs. The final document is a white paper highlighting guidelines on dispute avoidance and resolution between ASPs and their partners and customers.

It is the dispute handling guidelines — devised with the assistance of the United Nations' World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) — that is the Consortium's most telling achievement, said Gruen-Kennedy.

"This is one of the great deliverables of the Consortium this year," he said.

The result of work by a multinational team of world-class lawyers, dubbed the Dispute Avoidance and Resolution Team (DART) by the Consortium, the purpose of the DART white paper is to help ASPs devise contracts and procedures that will minimise and defuse disputes over contracts. It recommends providers take steps such as proactive service level management and taking out suitable insurance coverage.

The formal manual on which the white paper is based will be completed shortly and is due to go online in the first quarter of 2001. It will lay down formal dispute resolution mechanisms that can be implemented through WIPO and other agencies, with the result that contracts that follow the guidelines will be enforceable in 175 countries worldwide.

"We needed a way to have trans-border, trans-jurisdictional resolution of a conflict," said Kennedy. "We now have a mechanism in which you can write one contract for one customer that can be applied to one world," said Kennedy.

The DART team also contributed to the drafting of the white paper on service level agreements, which has been drawn up by the Consortium's SLA subcommittee under Compaq Computer's Eduardo Pontoriero.

The white paper is structured in a modular way to cover different "building block" elements of the ASP value chain, including network, hosting, application and customer care/help desk. Separate sections deal with the various service level requirements these different partnerships require within the value chain, said Pontoriero.

It includes a process of negotiation, escalation, mediation and arbitration worked out with DART to help partners and customers design and evaluate SLAs in a way that minimises the potential for difficult-to-resolve disputes.

The publications and the awards fulfil commitments announc