ConnectWise IT Nation: 35 Questions Worth Asking

Roughly 1,100 MSPs and VARs will gather later this week at ConnectWise IT Nation (formerly ConnectWise Partner Summit). The conference (Nov. 4-6, Orlando) also serves as a magnet for several related events hosted by CharTec, HTG Peer Groups, LabTech Software, Level Platforms and TruMethods. No doubt, attendees will hear a lot of themes related to cloud computing, the last mile of IT and managing the modern office for SMBs. Here are 35 key questions MSPmentor plans to raise during the conference.

For the sake of simplicity, MSPmentor has organized the questions around each major gathering. If we've overlooked any of the gatherings please feel free to post a comment or send me email (joe [at] NineLivesMediaInc [dot] com). Here we go...

CharTec Unherd of Conference (Nov. 4)

CharTec specializes in hardware as a service (HaaS) and other specialties such as backup and disaster recovery. During the Nov. 4 CharTec Unherd Of Conference, MSPmentor will explore:

1. HaaS - Hot or Hype?: How many MSPs are really profiting from hardware as a service (HaaS)? How does a HaaS engagement work and what are the secrets to potentially getting started? I'll track down CharTec's Alex Rogers for his latest perspectives.

2. Money Matters: How has CharTec's business evolved since ConnectWise Capital invested in the company earlier this year?

3. Avoiding Scams: At least one HaaS-focused company faces a lawsuit related to alleged financial fraud. How are CharTec and HaaS-focused MSPs working to educate solutions providers about potentially shady engagements. What are the warning signs?

4. Backup and Disaster Recovery: CharTech also promotes a BDR solution to partners. What's the business model and is the solution gaining traction with MSPs and their end-customers?

5. Next Moves: Rogers isn't the type of guy who rests on his laurels. I'm curious to see where he expects the HaaS market -- and CharTec -- to head next.

HTG Peer Groups (Multiple Days)

Scores of MSPs will be attending multi-day HTG Peer Group meetings. The peer groups allow MSPs from different, non-competing regions to share and discuss confidential business performance metrics, strategies and long-term goals. MSPmentor plans to attend at least one of the peer group gatherings, and we hope to raise the following questions:

6. State of the Union: How are MSPs performing as a whole? Are there certain regions where MSPs are performing best? And what steps are peer group members taking to bolster their sales, marketing and branding strategies?

7. Cloud Optimism?: Which cloud partner programs are performing best for HTG peer group members and why?

8. Global Scope: As HTG expands its peer groups across Europe and Australia, what global managed services themes are emerging?

9. Mergers and Acquisitions: We've all seen plenty of merger and acquisition activity in recent months. How many HTG members are looking to make an acquisition? How many others are looking for an exit strategy. And most importantly: Why?

10. Microsoft and the Cloud: Microsoft launched its new Microsoft Partner Network channel program today. Are any HTG members embracing Microsoft BPOS (Business Productivity Online Suite) and the forthcoming Office 365? Why or why not?

LabTech Automation Nation Conference (Nov. 4)

LabTech Software specializes in remote monitoring and management (RMM) software. During the LabTech Automation Nation Conference, MSPmentor will explore:

11. Hitting the Road: Lots of MSPs are exploring mobile device management and mobile managed services. Just a hunch, but I suspect LabTech Software CEO Matt Nachtrab to share LabTech's strategy for the mobile market. The big question: Can MSPs really profit from mobile device management?

12. Remaining Open: ConnectWise Capital invested in LabTech earlier this year. But more recently, LabTech announced an integration with Tigerpaw Software -- which competes with ConnectWise in some areas. The logical question: How is Nachtrab balancing the need to integrate with third-party PSA platforms while continuing to work very closely with ConnectWise?

13. On Premise, In the Cloud Or Both?: Generally speaking, LabTech is an on-premise RMM platform. But rumor has it some third parties may wind up hosting LabTech in the cloud. I don't have any firm details but I'll gather thoughts from Nachtrab.

14, Competition: Multiple software companies compete in the RMM market. But are there certain market segments where LabTech competes best?

15. Growth: How has LabTech's business performed since the ConnectWise Capital investment, and where does LabTech expect to head next with MSPs?

Level Platforms Conference (Nov. 4)

Roughly 100 MSPs are expected to attend the Level Platforms gathering. Here are some key questions for Level Platforms CEO Peter Sandiford, the Level Platforms team and the company's MSP ecosystem.

16. Remote Monitoring of the Cloud: Level Platforms was one of the first companies to help MSPs remotely monitor third-party SaaS and cloud platforms like Microsoft BPOS (Business Productivity Online Suite). How are those remote cloud monitoring solutions evolving, and what's the upside for MSPs?

17. Big Deals: Level Platforms has also been working closely with larger IT vendors like Intel (Hybrid Cloud), Hewlett-Packard (managed storage) and Microsoft (Windows Small Business Server Aurora). How are those relationships shaping up and where are they heading next?

18. On Premise vs. Hosted: Level Platforms' software is available both on-premise and as a hosted solution. What trends are emerging on each front, and where is Level Platforms making its most extensive investments?

19. Best of the Best: Taking a look at Level Platforms' partner network, what key steps did Level Platforms' best MSP partners take in 2010 and what were the outcomes?

20. Focus, Focus: The MSP software market is pretty darn crowded. It sounds like Level Platforms remains focused on software for MSPs in the SMB segment. How will that strategy evolve once Level Platforms' Managed Workplace 2011 arrives? We'll be listening.

TruMethods Partner Conference (Nov. 4)

TruMethods is a consulting organization that helps MSPs to develop and maximize their sales strategies. The company will host a members-only gathering on Nov. 4. Here are some key questions.

21. Sales Processes: What sales strategies are working best for MSPs right now, and how will the strategies need to evolve in 2011?

22. Mergers, Acquisitions and Valuations: TruMethods founder Gary Pica is a veteran of M&A, having sold his managed services business a few years back. How have valuations changed since that time, and what are the secrets to a successful exit strategy?

23. Next-generation Brands: Remote monitoring and patch management are old news. What types of branded managed services should MSPs be evangelizing now?

24. Sales Talent: Where are the best MSPs finding the best sales talent?

25. Just the Basics: For those who are just getting started in the managed services games, what three or four tips to success can Pica and TruMethods offer?

ConnectWise IT Nation (Nov. 4-6)

ConnectWise expects more than 1,100 MSPs and IT service providers to attend the conference. CEO Arnie Bellini has been providing some clues about what he'll cover. And I've certainly got my share of questions. Here's preview.

26. Defending the Last Mile: During last year's partner summit, Bellini very effectively described how MSPs need to defend the last mile of IT -- their local business customers -- from emerging cloud providers that sell directly to SMBs. What is Bellini's latest view on the last mile of IT? I'm willing to bet he'll share some updates.

27. Grab Hold to On-premise IT: Yes, some IT services will shift to the cloud. But what anchor on-premise services can MSPs offer to their customers forever? I suspect Bellini has a list of recommendations that he'll share. The idea is to grab onto modern business office solutions and never let go.

28. But Profit From the Cloud: Bellini will likely balance his messaging to ensure MSPs see cloud opportunities as well. As part of that effort, ConnectWise has expanded its own cloud across three continents. What else will ConnectWise potentially add to its cloud? Where will ConnectWise partner in the cloud? I'll be sure to ask.

29. Investments Worth Noting?: In early 2010, ConnectWise Capital invested in both CharTec and LabTech Software. How have those investments been performing? Will ConnectWise Capital make future investments? And what are ConnectWise's latest views on cooperating and competing with some MSP software vendors. I'll ask Bellini for an update.

30. Local Views, Global Moves: ConnectWise also has its own managed services practice serving the Tampa, Fla., area. What trends is David Bellini seeing locally, and how will those trends help to shape ConnectWise's global software and partner strategy?

Heard in the Halls

For the questions above, I've focused mainly on specific gatherings. But for the five items below I'll be focusing my attention to chatter in the hallways. What do I expect to hear and what do I hope to ask? Here are five more questions worth noting.

31. Gone Google?: Jeff Ragusa, the SMB lead for the Google Apps Reseller program, will likely be on hand. During the recent N-able Partner Conference, Ragusa mentioned that the best MSPs are adding a bit of software scripting expertise to their Google Apps business practices. He certainly doesn't want to scare off MSPs that don't have scripting expertise. But I plan to ask for more details on the topic.

32. Office 365: Microsoft is transitioning (translation: dumping) the Business Productivity Online Suite brand for the forthcoming Office 365 push. But will MSPs embrace Office 365 and its SaaS components?

33. Going Vertical?: I suspect gloStream will be making lots of noise about the healthcare vertical and electronic medical records (EMR). But how many MSPs have successfully targeted the healthcare vertical and what are their secrets to success?

34. Cash Flow: The most basic question of all: How's your cash flow in Q4 2010 vs. Q4 2009? And what's your outlook for 2011? We'll pose that question to dozens of MSPs.

35. Old News or Just Getting Started?: Hot or hype? Boom or bust? Threat or opportunity? I'm tired of all the cloud noise but we'll do our best to put cloud computing in its proper perspective.

Join the Conversation

If you're attending ConnectWise IT Nation or any of the related conferences I look forward to potentially meeting. Also, I'm hosting a Town Hall panel on Saturday, Nov. 6 at 3:00 p.m. The topic: Embracing the Cloud With Your Managed Services. If you're in the building, I invite you to come armed with questions.

Thanks for reading MSPmentor. I look forward to continuing the dialog with you here and at a range of upcoming MSP-centric conferences.

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