The rapid expansion of the Internet has led to a number of sea changes in the way
cultural and scientific heritage institutions organise their approaches to technology, data
organisation, and content delivery. As well as the new possibilities introduced for preser-
vation of and access to collections, some of these new Web-based technologies can alter
the workloads and working practices of these institutions. One promising emerging
service is the renting of shared computer resources and expertise from third-party
providers, commonly grouped together as Application Service Providers (ASPs).
ASPs are organisations that provide shared software applications and services over the
Internet.The choice of ASP services over in-house solutions may offer clear financial and
organisational benefits to cultural heritage organisations, particularly those without the
in-house technical know-how to build efficient and innovative systems.With ASPs the
need for specialised IT staff is minimised, and upfront equipment expenses are reduced.
The minimum hardware an institution needs to start with an ASP is a single Internet-
ready PC and a phone line.
Responding to the growth of outsourcing, a number of IT vendors of library manage-
ment systems have created ASP departments or subsidiaries.Within these companies,
resources and costs (including profit margins) are shared among many potential cus-
tomers. ASP services can be offered to the customers at lower rates than the individual
organisations would be able to achieve in isolation.The grouping of similar
collections via a shared portal is another potential benefit of ASP, but there are other
ways of achieving this goal, as we shall see.
One fundamental benefit of ASP technology for cultural heritage sector institutions is
that it offers the advantages of a fully integrated client/server architecture without the
responsibilities and costs of running an in-house system. In addition to this, while data
security can never be taken for granted, a competent and experienced ASP is likely to
ease such concerns, and the staff are freed
to concentrate on other, less technical
activities. Essentially, ASPs give smaller
cultural heritage organisations access to
advanced resources, thus allowing them
to offer services that they would not be
able to offer individually.
Risks include the potential unavailabil-
ity of services, which may be caused by
external problems such as phone line fail-
ures and power cuts. In extreme situa-
tions the data stored at the ASP can be
lost, hence backup should be practised on
both the ASP and the customer sides.
Although very unlikely, such eventualities
must be negotiated in advance between
the organisation and potential service
heGlasgowStory and Glasgow City Council (Libr
aries, Information and Lear
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