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Starting E-Business

Service Providers

Services Available

If you’ve just started thinking about e-business, it will be useful to identify the types of services that are provided by external e-business service providers. Service providers usually have a specific set of skills. Make sure you understand what those skills are and how they can best meet your needs.

One service provider may offer you more than one type of service. For example, an Internet service provider may also have web-hosting services.

It is important that you understand the service provider’s area of expertise to help you decide whether they are able to offer you one or many services.


Internet Service Providers (ISP)

What they do:

• Connect your computer to the Internet.
• Give you access to browse the Web and to use e-mail.

What You Should Look For
• A reliable Internet service.
• A reasonably fast Internet service (the speed of the connection).
• The services an ISP offers (e.g. dial-up or high-speed services, or both). Dial-up is slower but less costly and limits the use of certain applications and functions.
• A Service Level Agreement that guarantees a minimum level of performance.
• The level and type of service support provided.•

Website Developers/Designers

What they do:

• Design the look and organization of the website.
• Program your website to make sure that it works.
• Format and organize the content (Note that you may develop the content yourself or hire someone to write the content).
• Program any special functions that you may want on your website.



What You Should Look For
• A website that will meet your business needs (e.g. information, marketing, selling, need to regularly revise product information).
• A website design that suits the business purpose.
• Security measures (e.g. protection against viruses, backup procedures, payment and data protection, etc.).
• Terms and Conditions should specify payment, services and whether online support will be provided, and should include a maintenance agreement.
• Clarification on who will maintain and update the website (could be done in-house or by an external service provider).
• Clarification on the overall look and feel of the website, the information to be provided on the website and any other functions available to customers.


Web Hosts

What they do:

• Provide your website with a place on the Internet (advisable to buy your host plan once your website is designed). Hosting services range from simple to more complex.
• Web host plans can offer many features.
• There are free and paid providers offering hosting services.
• Most web hosting companies rent web-hosting space in a datacenter.



What You Should Look For
• Hosting reliability - downtime can cost you business. Consider the percentage of time the host is accessible via the Internet (referred to as uptime).
• Consider whether disk space, bandwidth requirements and type of server software meet your website needs. Lower cost web host plans generally have smaller amounts of disk space and low bandwidth requirements.
• For a basic information-based website, you will not require a web hosting plan with a lot of extra features.
• For a paid hosting service, a Service Level Agreement clarifies the level of service that you will receive.
• Consider whether the plan meets your needs.
• Consider whether free web hosting services meet your needs. These are usually not suitable for more complex sites.
• Because a web host usually will have more than one web hosting plan, you will need to review all web hosting options so that you can choose the plan best suited to your needs.

Application Service Providers (ASP)

What they do:

• Provide online access to software applications for a fee.
• Fully own and operate the software application(s).
• Operate and maintain the servers that support the software.
• Provide one type of service (e.g. online credit card payment processing) or a broad range of application services.
• Many SMEs (Small and medium-sized enterprises) find it useful to do their accounting through ASPs.

What You Should Look For
• Maintenance of up-to-date services.
• Sufficient technical support.
• Security measures in place.
• Service Level Agreement that guarantees a certain level of service.
• Billing that will meet your needs (“per-use” basis or on a monthly or annual fee basis).
• The more customized the software, the more expensive it will be.
• You may not require customization. There are many existing applications that meet the needs of a variety of small businesses.
• Some ASPs offer low cost packaged solutions through their websites.

Cloud Computing Service Providers

What they do:

• Cloud computing refers to computer software or hardware services delivered over the Internet and shared among users.
• Applications, files and documents reside in an offsite data centre instead of your company’s computer hard drive.
• Information can be accessed via any Internet-connected device (e.g. laptop or smartphone).
• Service providers manage the technology and businesses share the service. The costs are determined according to how much of the resource you use.


What You Should Look For
• A vendor who will educate you on cloud computing and help you choose the best options for your business.
• Solid security measures at the physical locations where the data will be stored.
• Ensure that your business and your provider can comply with pertinent laws and regulations.
• Consider the size, complexity and number of software applications you currently use when considering what to move to the cloud.
• Consider the potential uses of cloud computing for your business: document management, databases, presentations and web conferencing, etc.
• Even if you decide not to use any cloud computing services, you may consider it for back-up and storage of data.
• It’s a good idea to choose a vendor who is able to provide all types of cloud services, even if you do not plan to move all your operations to the cloud initially. This way you can scale up (or down) as necessary.

Finding the Right Service Provider

Finding the right service provider is critical to success. Click on the tabs for some tips for helping you with this task.

1. E- Business Needs
Clarify your e-business needs. Determine what services, products and skills you need.

2. Consult with Other Businesses
Ask other businesses what companies they have used. You can also ask local business associations for suggestions.


3. Examples of Work
Look at examples of the company’s work. A company should be able to provide you with a number of examples of their work.



4. References
Get references. Check references to see how they rate the company and the service they received.


5. Compare Prices
Consider obtaining quotes from a number of service providers to compare prices and pricing models (fixed price, by deliverable, by time spent).


6. Use Search Engine
Use search engines or directories on the Internet to find service providers. If you type web-hosting directories into a search engine, you will find listings of web hosting services.

7. Reviews
Use search engines to read reviews of service providers. Try to assess whether the review is independent or sponsored by an advertiser.


Assess Potential Service Provider

Assess the potential service provider in terms of the following:

• What are their key skills?
• Are their clients satisfied with their work?
• Can you review the service providers’ products? Do these products meet your needs? Has the service provider developed a product similar to the one you require?
• Does the service provider try to understand your business and e-business needs?
• How long has the service provider been in business?
• Is the service provider clear about how the work will be carried out?
• Can the service provider describe what the products or services will look like and how much they will cost?
• What pricing model is the service provider using?


Communication

The key to working effectively with your service provider is to stay actively involved in the project.

Your involvement is important to ensure that the service provider adequately understands your needs and that you receive quality service.

Clearly communicating your expectations is critical to this process.


Key Tips

Click the below tabs for some key tips for working successfully with your e-business service provider.

1. A Clear Contract
Start with a clear contract that specifies the scope of work. The contract should clarify who is responsible for what. The contract should include costs, key deliverables and timelines.

2. Expectations
Clarify your expectations. Make sure your expectations are in line with the scope and budget of the project.


3. Project Plan
Ask the service provider to develop a project plan (or work plan) that outlines how the work will be carried out and that clearly describes the deliverables and timelines.


4. Testing
If the service provider is providing you with a product (e.g. website) make sure you test the product. Have customers test out the website and provide their feedback before the project is complete.



5. Meeting Commitments
Talk to the service provider about what will happen if commitments are not met.


6. Provide Information
Provide the service provider with any necessary information and materials.

7. Communicate with Service Provider
Regularly communicate with the service provider. Actively monitor the progress to ensure project targets and deliverables are being met.


End of Unit:
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