I'm busy booking travel for channel partner and managed services conferences this April. Among my destinations: Autotask Community Live, scheduled for April 18-20 in Miami. Here are five key trends I'll be exploring at the conference, which is designed for VARs and MSPs that want to automate their businesses.
First, a little background for those who are new to MSPmentor and this industry. Generally speaking, Autotask competes in the PSA (professional services automation) market against folks like ConnectWise and Tigerpaw, and emerging European SaaS upstarts like Severa.
When it comes to MSP/PSA user and partner conferences, ConnectWise essentially blazed the trail by launching its first partner summit back in 2005. Autotask got in the game with Autotask Community Live in 2009, Tigerpaw Software is planning its first conference for October 2010, and this year's ConnectWise Partner Summit runs November 4-6 in Orlando, Fla.
Changing TimesI often blog about head-on competition between the PSA providers. But increasingly, each company is moving in different directions. The latest examples involve Autotask's buyout of VARStreet, and ConnectWise's decision to launch an incubator arm (ConnectWise Capital), which so far has invested in LabTech (remote monitoring software) and CharTec (hardware as a service).
Onto the story at hand: What do I expect to see and hear at the Autotask Community Live conference? There are plenty of surprises in store -- some of which I'm still trying to confirm. But here are some key themes I think VARs and MSPs need to track:
1. MSPs Working with Corporate IT:When Autotask launched TaskFire, the move attempted to help managed services providers work more closely with corporate IT managers. How is that effort performing so far? I've heard anecdotal examples of success. But I want to hear more -- a lot more -- about how corporate IT and MSPs can potentially find common ground.
The conversation certainly isn't limited to Autotask. Companies like N-able have been promoting channel programs that sell monitoring tools into mid-market customer settings. But the balancing act between MSPs and corporate IT is worth watching.
2. Expanding the Automation Discussion:
One of the big challenges facing the managed services market is simply stated: We all spend far too much time talking to the same small community of people over and over again. Established MSPs sometimes hop from one PSA or RMM tool to the next. So software vendors spend extensive time trying to recruit customers from one another.
Instead of continuing a bloody battle to engage and re-engage established MSPs, software providers are looking for Blue Ocean opportunities. That explains ConnectWise Capital's investment in CharTec, and Autotask's buyout of VARStreet.
In theory, the VARStreet deal allows Autotask to:
- help MSPs pick up incremental revenue and margin through product engagements they may have otherwise ignored;
- strengthen its relationship with multiple distributors; and
- appeal to a broader set of VARs and resellers that already have a strong product focus.
I'll be watching to see if Autotask really does pull new VARs into the automation discussion through the VARStreet buyout.
3. Email Security And Online Backup Converge:
I can't go into details yet, but I think it's safe to say we'll see some new partnerships involving Email security specialists partnering up with online backup and business continuity specialists. The parties involved provide SaaS-centric offerings, which means they're going to need to give MSPs a single dashboard for managing email and storage systems -- at least, that's my theory.
4. Keep an Eye on OnForce:
OnForce is an online marketplace that allows VARs to bid on customer engagements. It's like an eBay of sorts for IT projects. OnForce and Autotask announced some initial integration work in August 2008. Then, ConnectWise issued -- and retracted -- a statement in 2009, indicating that OnForce and ConnectWise were working closely together.
So what's next? Multiple sources across the industry tell me a closer working relationship between OnForce and Autotask is under way. I'm not sure if new components will be announced at this year's Autotask Community Live, but consider this potential concept: What if Autotask customers had a single dashboard to bid on customer projects (OnForce), source products for those projects (VARStreet) and then manage those projects (Autotask)? Just my theory, of course.
5. Economic Indicators:During a quick discussion yesterday with Bob Cagnazzi, CEO of BlueWater Communications Group (a fast-growing solutions provider), he told me that corporate IT budgets are loosening up, and CIOs are generally feeling better about investing in innovation. At the same time, big technology bellwethers like Oracle are showing initial signs of an economic recovery.
Great. But does that mean small MSPs are (A) hiring and (B) growing their customer bases? Autotask can likely provide some insights, since their SaaS system can easily track PSA user headcounts within individual service companies. I'll ask CEO Bob Godgart for some updated metrics and economic perspectives during the conference.
Got Questions?As always, if you have questions or issues you'd like MSPmentor to explore at upcoming conferences, please email me (joe [at] NineLivesMediaInc.com). I appreciate the dialog, and enjoy the chatter.
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