DSS Leads Firm To ASP Business

Carrying a client/server application into the Internet Age can be a chore. Doing so as an application service provider (ASP) is a true burden.

But that's Joey Castaneda's job. As vice president of information systems at Lube Management Corp. in Pleasanton, Calif., he oversees the company's decision-support software (DSS) business, which helped transform the company from a retail quick-lube enterprise into a software provider as well. The company acts as an ASP for the software, renting it to customers, who are, in some cases, also competitors.

Lube Management is the parent company of Oil Changer Inc., a California quick-lube retail chain. In 1998, Castaneda led the transition to the client/ server-based DSS from an old PC-based batch system that uploaded data from Oil Changer's 44 stores to headquarters.

"Management needed real-time data, such as where labor should be distributed among the shops," Castaneda said. The old method couldn't deliver it.

Success with the new client/server DSS came lightning quick. In the first month, the company saved $100,000 on labor alone, Castaneda said. Some store managers were scheduling too many workers and others not enough. By getting real-time data, corporate managers could reroute workers to the right store on a given day.

Such returns inspired the creation of a business unit to sell the DSS application to Oil Changer competitors outside the territories of its retail stores. Management was so excited by the prospect that it created Lube Management to serve as the holding company for Oil Changer and turned Castaneda's information technology group into a lucrative profit center.

Castaneda said that although he believes he timed his entry into the ASP market perfectly and that client/server "was the right way to go," he understands that the architecture has limits. With his system, users must invest in thin-client point-of-sale terminals to access the DSS. For most quick-lube operations, this hasn't been a drawback. But "in the long run," he said, "browser-based apps will win."

Kurt Galle, MIS manager at American LubeFast Inc. in Lawrenceville, Ga., said that because he uses Castaneda's DSS with another client/server application, it works well. "Keeping technology similar is an advantage," he said.

Just the same, "if I were doing it today, I'd build it as a Web app," Castaneda said.

Castaneda may have more time than he thinks, said Laurie McCabe, an analyst at Boston-based Summit Strategies Inc. Client/server vertical applications will remain viable among ASPs for some time, she predicted.

Indeed, start-up National Airlines Inc. in Las Vegas recently installed remote services from Talus Solutions Inc. in Atlanta, which uses a client/server, thin-client approach similar to Castaneda's.

Galle said he thinks that as long as client/server technology continues to be ahead "in key functional areas," he and other IT managers will use it.

This story, "DSS Leads Firm To ASP Business" was originally published by Computerworld.

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