Clear, Jade kick off local ASP market

The ASP software renting market, which has exploded in the US, became a reality in New Zealand last week with the news that Clear Communications has set itself up as an ASP (applications service provider), offering a rented automated credit card clearing facility across the Internet, and the unveiling of Aoraki's Jade Direct.

The ASP software renting market, which has exploded in the US, became a reality in New Zealand last week with annoucements of separate services from Clear Communications and Jade.

Clear has set itself up as an ASP (applications service provider), offering a rented automated credit card clearing facility across the Internet.

Meanwhile Jade owner Aoraki has unveiled its ASP strategy for renting software over the Internet with the announcement of two pilot projects.

Clear's service which is called Payment Gateway uses software that Clear developed in conjunction with Direct Payment Solutions (DPS), an Auckland-based development company. Customers rent the application from Clear at a price based on transaction volumes.

Clear will then maintain and service the system, "so the customer just gets on with their own business", says Clear spokesman Ross Inglis. Rentable applications are the way ahead, he says, "because you don't need to buy the software or hire your own staff".

Bus company Coachnet, which runs Intercity Coachlines and Newmans Coachlines, has been using Payment Gateway since July, as part of Clear's customer trials. Assistant general manager Philip Kotze says Coachnet used to work through a five-step manual procedure for clearing payments and would often find customers had already used their ticket before the payment was declined. Under the new system, customer service staff type details into a Web browser and receive an "accept" or "decline" message within three minutes.

"We have some fairly expensive products, like coach passes worth $400 to $500, so our risk of losing money is quite high."

After looking at the clearing systems available, Coachnet chose Clear's solution because "they offered to make it painless for us. We don't have to do [anything] ourselves and it's quite a relief," says Kotze.

Kotze estimates cost savings of around $20,000 annually.

Other benefits include Coachnet now receiving instant payment for credit card transactions, and real-time reporting lets management plan more accurately. Two full-time staff, previously responsible for following up declined credit card transactions, have now been re-employed in customer service roles.

For its ASP service Aoraki has set up a new division called Jade Direct which will deliver simple business applications, written in the Jade programming language, to small businesses.

Jade Direct aims to launch by the end of September and provide the service to end users for a flat fee of less than $100 a month.

Jade Direct general manager Ken Camp says Jade Direct takes the applications which are written by ISVs (independent software developers) and acts as a bureau hosting the application and providing the user interface, quality assurance, security, management and registration. Jade Direct will also work with third parties, dubbed "principals" that use the applications to provide a business service to their user base.

For example, in the first pilot the principal is Christchurch-based Retail Reporting which analyses pharmacies' sale information for them. Retail Reporting also benchmarks each pharmacy's performance against other pharmacies. Christchurch developer Vianet wrote an application for Retail Reporting which Jade Direct is hosting.

In the second pilot, Jade Direct is working with a Christchurch-based chartered accounting firm - which did not want to be named - to provide book-keeping applications to 20 of its small business clients.

Camp says Jade Direct is also speaking to three of the big five accounting firms.

Other applications which are written in Jade are targeted at valuers, ports, unions, bakeries, banks and farmers - all of which could be delivered through Jade Direct, he says.

Camp says the accounting firm involved in the pilot did a survey of small businesses in New Zealand and found on average they spend $7000 a year on PCs, software and support.

The technology behind Jade Direct is Jade 5. End-users run Jade 5.0's smartclient (a thin client desktop OS taking up 900Kb) on their PCs connects to Jade Direct over a dial-up connection.

The applications sit on a Jade database.

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