Content, Channel partner events, Channel partner programs, Channel partners, MSP

ConnectWise Opens IT Nation Conferences to All Rivals

ConnectWise CEO Arnie Bellini & Datto CEO Austin McChord at HTG gathering this week.
Open Dialog: ConnectWise CEO Arnie Bellini & Datto CEO Austin McChord at HTG gathering this week.

ConnectWise is opening up its IT Nation conferences to all technology companies -- including rivals like ContinuumDatto, Kaseya, QuoteWerks and SolarWinds MSP, the company confirmed this morning. The move is part of a broader "open" strategy that includes open APIs and open software for third-party integrations, CEO Arnie Bellini tells ChannelE2E.

To be clear, the open approach doesn't necessarily mean that a vendor love fest is unfolding in the IT services software market. Some third-party rivals may choose to sponsor and attend, others may respectfully decline the offer. All will remain fierce competitors.

Also, the open approach requires reciprocation, Bellini notes: Any vendor that sponsors and attends IT Nation must also allow ConnectWise to potentially sponsor and attend that vendor's associated conference.

Finding Common Ground

As a sign of that commitment, Bellini and Datto CEO Austin McChord met earlier this week at an HTG partner gathering. Datto has agreed to sponsor and attend IT Nation 2018 (set for November in Orlando) while ConnectWise has agreed to sponsor and attend DattoCon18 (set for June in Austin, Texas). I believe Datto will also surface at IT Nation Europe in April.

"As with every year, we are excited we will be sponsoring IT Nation," McChord tells ChannelE2E. "We are also excited ConnectWise is continuing the tradition of sponsoring DattoCon. As we have mentioned DattoCon is open to all vendors regardless of product overlap. We are looking forward to our biggest event ever in Austin, TX in June."

Brian Laufer

Bellini has also reached out to executive leaders at Continuum, Kaseya, QuoteWerks and SolarWinds MSP to describe IT Nation's open border approach. ChannelE2E is reaching out to those companies to see if such an approach is of interest.

Among the responses, QuoteWerks VP Brian A. Laufer offered this perspective:

"We are pleased and looking forward to once again be able to be in front of our mutual customers at an event where they can see all of their vendors at a single event. We have always felt that customers should be able to choose the solution that is best for them based on their own needs. Not based on one company limiting their access to favored solutions."

IT Nation: Past, Present, Future

IT Nation, arguably the largest annual gathering of MSPs and technology solutions providers in the SMB sector, started out as the ConnectWise Partner Summit a decade or more ago. The conference originally was open to all third-party sponsors. But as ConnectWise acquired various software companies -- particularly LabTech Software and Quosal -- the IT Nation conference put up a few borders over the past couple of years, blocking rival companies like Autotask, Continuum, Kaseya, QuoteWerks and SolarWinds MSP from sponsoring and attending. (Note: ChannelE2E is not suggesting that every vendor would have sponsored the event if competitive blocks weren't in place.)

The blocking tactic is a familiar one. Many large technology companies (Microsoft, VMware, etc.) block rival companies from their flagship conferences.

Still, the blocking move involved plenty of debate within the halls of ConnectWise. During executive and partner meetings over the past two years or so, Bellini heard plenty of arguments from both sides of the table. Some executives and partners argued that IT Nation was a ConnectWise-centric conference, and therefore should not permit rivals to sponsor. Other internal folks and partners argued that IT Nation's core mission was to be an open, inclusive conference for all technology companies -- to help grow IT service provider businesses.

Frankly, you can make a case for either argument.

IT Nation Opens Up: Why Now?

The big question: Why has Bellini decided to open up IT Nation to all interested parties -- even rivals -- now? I suspect the answer involves at least three key reality checks.

  • First, ConnectWise has successfully integrated both LabTech (now ConnectWise Automate) and Quosal (now ConnectWise Sell) into its business. A reorganization a few years ago has essentially re-centralized company decision making.
  • Years ago, MSPs regularly jumped from one vendor platform to another rival platform -- chasing a shiny object, a special pricing offer, or the promise of "something better." That still happens here and there, but such churn has slowed a bit in the maturing market. Potential software disruption in the MSP software market, I've increasingly argued, will come from outside the traditional lineup of entrenched rivals.
  • Third, ConnectWise recently acquired HTG -- an executive training, coaching and peer group organization that serves roughly 500 MSPs and technology service providers worldwide. HTG's leadership and membership have long advocated open conferences that welcome all vendors -- regardless of competitive stance -- to attend and sponsor.

The path to an open IT Nation, I believe, began based on ConnectWise partner feedback in late 2016 and early 2017. Another step arrived in late 2017 when Datto acquired Autotask. Amid that deal, ConnectWise welcomed Datto to attend and sponsor IT Nation 2017 in November despite the head-on ConnectWise-Autotask competition.

For its part, Datto is merging Autotask Community Live 2018 into DattoCon 2018. Moreover, CEO Austin McChord earlier this month vowed that DattoCon would be open to all vendors and MSPs.

ConnectWise Evolves Conference Positioning

In addition to opening up IT Nation's borders, the company has evolved the core focus of IT Nation and a sister event called Automation Nation. The details, according to ConnectWise, look like this:

  • IT Nation Europe (April 2018) and IT Nation (November 2018) will be completely open to customers, prospects and all interested vendors, and will be the premier conference for business and technology team leaders who are looking for insights on how to run their operations more efficiently as well as grow their businesses.
  • Automation Nation (June 2018) will be focused on tech operators, including, but not limited to, service managers, technicians and developers. The conference was originally designed for LabTech partners. But starting with this year's event, the content is designed to address technology best practices across the ConnectWise platform -- including ConnectWise Automate (RMM), Manage (PSA), Control (remote control and remote access) and Unite (cloud monitoring, management and billing).

ConnectWise Next Moves

So where does ConnectWise go from here? In addition to internal R&D, the company should have some acquisition news to share soon, Bellini hinted to ChannelE2E yesterday. Several of ConnectWise's rivals also are in M&A mode. We suspect actual deals will surface over the next few weeks.

The bottom line: Competitive borders across the MSP and IT services software map could be redrawn in multiple ways. But IT Nation, Bellini says, will maintain open borders.

Joe Panettieri

Joe Panettieri is co-founder & editorial director of MSSP Alert and ChannelE2E, the two leading news & analysis sites for managed service providers in the cybersecurity market.