ConnectWise IT Nation: Bigger Technology Vendors Join the Mix

Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard and Symantec are taking a closer look at the SMB managed services industry. Indeed, the trio will have a major presence at IT Nation (Nov. 9-11, Orlando), a major VAR and MSP conference hosted by ConnectWise. Here's the update, along with some insights about IT Nation's evolution.

IT Nation started out as the annual ConnectWise Partner Conference. The event has grown and sold out for seven straight years, according to ConnectWise. But success also introduces some challenges: Director of Community Jeannine Edwards wants to make sure IT Nation content remains relevant for attendees, even as the conference grows each year. Generally speaking, the IT Nation event has a loyal following among small to midsize software companies that work closely with MSPs. But gradually, ConnectWise has attracted larger vendors to the event.

That trend seems to be accelerating across the managed services market. Symantec, for one, is said to be working on some MSP partner surprises that push far beyond its recent Managed Security Service (MSS) Specialization. Similarly, HP has gradually upped its commitment to MSPs, working with such partners as Axcient to promote recurring revenue storage opportunities. And Cisco Systems has been promoting various partner programs that certify VARs in the managed services and cloud services markets.

Multiple Events, One Location

Meanwhile, the IT Nation event has become a master conference for multiple break-out events hosted by HTG Peer Groups, LabTech Software, Level Platforms, Quosal, QuoteWerks, Service Leadership, ChannelCloud, CharTec and TruMethods.

Some critics worry that IT Nation will become "too big." My opinion: Instead of worrying about the event's size -- about 1,600 attendees -- check out the agenda and zero in on the specific content you need for your business. If the IT Nation conference ever shifts from Orlando to the Las Vegas Convention Center with breakouts over at The Mirage, we can talk about over-expansion problems.

Some critics also worry IT Nation will become too focused on ConnectWise's own ecosystem -- PSA software, LabTech remote monitoring and management software, Quosal quoting and sales proposal software and CharTEc HaaS offerings. Admittedly, ConnectWise competes with some of its key software partners. I don't want to dismiss that point. It's real. There can be partner friction in the market, which sometimes isn't good. But there's another important side to the story: In some cases, that competitive friction has helped to drive software innovation AND drive down licensing prices for MSPs. ConnectWise deserves credit for accelerating those trends.

For me, IT Nation always provides an industry reality check. I navigate the conference to see how MSPs feel about their current fiscal year performance, and I listen closely as industry pundits start to share their roadmaps for the following year. And this year, the IT Nation chatter will include some larger vendors -- a healthy sign that MSP influence continues to grow in the channel.

The week of Oct. 24: I'll be back to tell you the top 10 people I hope to interview at IT Nation, and why.
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