Autotask, the PSA software provider, has undergone a management evolution in recent months. As you'll recall, CEO Bob Godgart shifted to the Chief Visionary Officer position in December 2010, making room for new CEO Mark Cattini. Around the same time, Lenovo SMB channel veteran Jay McBain joined Autotask as Senior VP of strategy and market development. Fast forward to the present, and we're nearing 100 days since the management updates were announced. So what's going on inside Autotask? I'm hoping to catch up with McBain later today. Here's a preview.
Before I share my questions for McBain, it's important to set the stage. Each of the major PSA software providers -- Autotask, ConnectWise and Tigerpaw Software, among others -- remain committed to MSPs. But those software companies are seeking blue ocean opportunities -- market segments that PSA hasn't necessarily reached before. I suspect roughly 10,000 or more MSPs run PSA software from the Big Three, but that leaves at least 70,000 North American resellers that have yet to discover and embrace PSA.
There's even some wild speculation in the market that PSA companies should move beyond IT service providers to embrace more traditional services professionals like electricians, plumbers -- and any other services business that requires dispatch, trouble ticket, time and billing, and staff management capabilities.
Starting PointBut let's focus this conversation on the channel. Within the halls of Autotask, the company is focused on integration. During Autotask's early years, that meant integrating everything "inside" the walls of the company -- people, processes, customer information, sales, implementation, management, billing, etc., according to a spokesman. But now, Autotask wants to leverage the cloud to integrate the solution provider to everything "outside" the walls of their office -- their customers, vendors, distributors, and even each other, the spokesman adds.
That efforts starts with the Autotask online community (which has 30,000+ active members), open APIs, and supply chain integration via VARStreet -- which Autotask acquired in 2010. The goal, Autotask says, is increased communication, collaboration, and integration of the entire channel. And Jay McBain is set to lead the effort, the Autotask spokesman says.
Changes AfootSome interesting twists are already emerging. For much of 2010, Autotask attempted to build face-to-face user groups. But it was an uphill effort, especially when it comes to market perceptions.
A case in point: Rival ConnectWise spends about $425,000 annually to build and support user groups across the globe, according to Jeannine Edwards, director of community for ConnectWise. Those user groups meet quarterly and typically attract more than 100 attendees. And in Q4 each year, more than 1,000 VARs and MSPs attend IT Nation, an annual event hosted by ConnectWise. Simply put, the ConnectWise user groups and global conference are huge hits.
Generally speaking, Autotask's user groups are smaller, user-led gatherings. Some gatherings gain critical mass, others don't. I think Autotask remains committed to face-to-face conversations; the Autotask Community Live event this May is expected to attract more than 500 users. But ultimately, I think Autotask wants to play to its strengths going forward -- more effectively emphasizing an online community tied to Autotask's SaaS platform.
McBain's RoleSo where does Autotask Senior VP Jay McBain fit into the evolved Autotask strategy? And how, ultimately, will McBain help Autotask to pursue blue ocean opportunities? Here are the five questions I hope to pose to him later today.
1. The First 100 Days: So, you've been working at Autotask for roughly 100 days now. What were the biggest surprises, biggest challenges... and biggest victories?
2. Define Community: Autotask says its online community has 30,000 active users. But what does "active" mean? How engaged is the Autotask user base... and what steps will you take to get them even more engaged? Separately, it sounds like you've been looking at specific niches -- say, healthcare IT -- for more potential community engagement. Any updates?
3. More Integrations?: Integrations between PSA and RMM (remote monitoring and management) software platforms are widely available. How do you see the integration opportunity evolving, and what types of hardware, software and cloud systems may wind up plugging into Autotask?
4. Blending Products and Services?: It's been about a year since Autotask acquired VARStreet, the product sourcing and quoting system. What types of synergies already exist between Autotask and VARStreet, and how may those synergies evolve?
5. Unique Selling Proposition?: I concede -- MSPmentor sometimes spends too much time writing about competition between Autotask and ConnectWise. But on the other hand, the PSA vendors also spend a ton of time countering each other in the market. Still, I've noticed the PSA players spending less time talking about each other and more time focused on their own businesses and market growth opportunities. With that context in mind: What ultimately makes Autotask unique in the market as VARs and MSPs seek automation options?
Same Questions, Different ExecutivesI'll try to pose those questions to McBain today and other Autotask executives in the weeks ahead. I know Autotask will share plenty of perspectives during Autotask Community Live in May. But we'll be digging around for insights ahead of the conference.
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