Channel partner events, Channel partner programs

CompTIA AMM 2017 Recap: 25 Interviews & Observations

The wall between IT professionals and channel partners continues to crumble. The two communities are marching forward -- together -- in a mad dash toward next-generation business models and technology careers. Those themes and more surfaced this week at CompTIA Annual Member Meeting (AMM) in Chicago. Through more than 20 interviews, we captured the pulse of the industry -- including conversations with CompTIA CEO Todd Thibodeaux, Executive VP Nancy Hammervik, Chairwoman Amy Kardel (each pictured above) and plenty more. CompTIA is perhaps best known as an IT organization for channel partners. But take a closer look and you'll find that the association has certified thousands of IT pros. Moreover, CompTIA has essentially acquired the Association of Information Technology Professionals (AITP), and is launching an IT professional organization to “help foster skilled workforce.” (Technically, "acquired" isn't the accurate term since the deal involved non-profit associations -- but you get the picture.) So what happened during the CompTIA AMM sessions? I gotta concede: I spent most of my time in the lobby speaking with leaders, influencers, pundits and entrepreneurs from all walks of life. Here's a minute-by-minute recap of my meetings -- some planned, some impromptu -- from Wednesday, March 22. Plus: My own views on the state of 'partners' at the end of this blog.

9:00 a.m.: Say Hello to CompTIA World & Tracy Pound

Tracy Pound
I land in Chicago and check my Facebook feed. Much of the CompTIA membership is buzzing about CompTIA World, a new magazine for the association's membership. Skeptics may say magazines are dead. But I'm a believer. Much like an alumni magazine for a university, CompTIA World puts a face on the organization's various members and influencers. The first cover story profiles Member of the Year Tracy Pound, founder and managing director of MaximITy, a technology training, consultancy and project management company based in Tamworth, England. The content -- and the design -- hit the mark.

10:30 a.m.: Managed Sales Pros & Tracie Orisko

Tracie Orisko
As I wait to check in at the hotel, Managed Sales Pro President Tracie Orisko and I make eye contact. It's time to compare notes about the industry's growth... but we're both running to meetings. We promise to catch up later. But I drop the ball. Too bad, because Managed Sales Pros always has a good story to share.

11:00 a.m.: Hello Virtual Channel Chief

After checking into my room, I return to the conference level and run into Get Channeled Co-Founder Ted Roller. A veteran channel chief, Roller now offers virtual channel chief services to companies like Mailprotector. Roller is all smiles. That's hardly surprising considering his channel strategy and execution helped Mailprotector to score some funding in recent weeks.
Ted Roller Ted Roller
Now, Roller also is helping ConnectBooster with its partner program. ConnectBooster develops an automated payments processing solution for channel partners. The takeaway? Get Channeled's Virtual Channel Chief model is now proven and the business has reached a tipping point, Roller asserts. But enough of this business talk. Ask Roller about his kids and the guy really lights up... And yes, I can't help but offer up some updates about my own kids.

11:30: Jay McBain Minus Social Media

Jay McBain
Former ChannelEyes CEO Jay McBain stops by. No form of social media is present. No signs of an Obama wiretap, either. Jay exited ChannelEyes back in December and has been touring the world with his wife, Michelle Ragusa-McBain. Perhaps you've witnessed the travels on social media... ... Has Jay been on a long vacation? Not really. Quite a few technology companies have reached out to McBain for channel advice in recent months. The result involves long conversations in Australia, Europe and North America... McBain deserves credit for sparking a healthy debate after CompTIA ChannelCon 2016. At the time, he described warning signs across the IT channel. Some of the conversation involved the gap between traditional partners and SaaS companies. But pick Jay's brain and he'll tell you far more...

11:45: Dave Sobel's Search for Consumer Hardware...

Dave Sobel Dave Sobel
I got into a lengthy conversation with SolarWinds MSP's Dave Sobel. He's begging the consumer hardware industry to introduce new innovations so that he can spend a ton of money and geek out on a fresh upgrade cycle. (Don't tell his wife, Sharon) But alas, Dave can't find anything to buy. Among our conclusions:
  • To our horror: Apple has somehow transformed into a lame PC company -- offering too many different PC variations without innovating. Remember the classic four quadrant model Steve Jobs used to use: (1) High End, (2) Low End, (3) Consumer, (4) Business. We'd like to see Apple return to that approach for its Macs -- while introducing that approach for its watches and smartphones. Too many colors. Too many styles. Please -- build ONE great device in each category then expand (ever so slightly) from there.
  •  Oh, and what about Apple Mac Minis -- can we get that as a monthly HaaS subscription that Apple ACTUALLY upgrades every three years (or less) for us?

Noon: TeamLogic IT Revenues Accelerate

Chuck Lennon Chuck Lennon
TeamLogic IT now has about 95 IT franchise owners across roughly 120 locations. And those businesses are performing strongly, according to President Chuck Lennon. Year-over-year revenues for existing locations rose roughly 25 percent in 2016 vs. 2015. Lennon and I discuss some key franchising strategies, milestones and next-moves for both him and the various franchise owners. ChannelE2E Senior Contributing Blogger Ty Trumbull is set to follow-up on several fronts.

12:20: Addressing Workforce Diversity

Todd Thibodeaux
CompTIA CEO Todd Thibodeaux exits a session and grabs some time with me and Lennon in the hall. We discuss the converging worlds of IT pros and channel partners. And Todd touches on a few of the initiatives here at the event -- particularly a workforce diversity push. When it comes to diversity, CompTIA's focus areas have included Creating IT Futures, Advancing Women in IT and Future Leaders. Next up: The advancement of African-Americans and Hispanics/Latinos within the Technology Industry.

12:30: Global Managed Services...

Amy Luby Amy Luby
Chris Siakos
Amy Luby, head of U.S. sales at Sinefa, stops by and introduces me to Chris Siakos -- one of the company founders. They ask how Amy Katz and I came up with the original MSPmentor 250 list back when we co-owned that site (we sold in 2011 and exited in 2014). I think we still have the plan -- which truly was written on the back of a cocktail napkin in Silicon Valley sometime around September 2007 or so. Has it been that long? Sinefa is an interesting MSP play. The company specializes in traffic visibility -- particularly over wide area networks and the Internet. It’s a multi-tenant platform that had about 175 partners onboard as of late 2016. Luby joined to drive U.S. expansion...

12:50: After the Exit, Part I

Leonard DiMiceli Leonard DiMiceli
I ran into Leonard DiMiceli at some point during the day. For the sake of my coverage lets plug him in here. DiMiceli pioneered the early MSP security market. Indeed, he helped to build SpamSoap and then transformed that company into Nuvotera. Fast forward to 2015 and Nuvotera had a successful sale and exit. After some yada, yada, yada, DiMiceli emerged as VP of channel sales at MyDigitalShield in August 2016. Instead of seeking headlines, DiMiceli and the team have quietly been building something bigger over at MyDigitalShield. Hmmm... Let's cut a deal, Len: Tell me what you're up to, and I'll tell you what ChannelE2E is up to... Off the record, of course.
12:55: After the Exit, Part II
MJ Shoer
Hey, there's MJ Shoer looking remarkably relaxed. It's been more than a year since Shoer sold his MSP to Internet & Telephone. Instead of heading off into the sunset, Shoer stuck around to help further accelerate I&T's business. So how is the business performing -- and how is life after you take off the CEO hat? Shoer smiled and waved as the escalator whisked him away... onward and upward to his next meeting. But we expect to connect in the days ahead to discuss the entrepreneur to exit (E2E) journey -- along with his current encore at I&T.  

1:00 p.m.: Managed Security Services Trends

Scott Barlow Scott Barlow
I grab some time with Scott Barlow, VP of Global MSP for Sophos. Sure, just about every security company is jumping into the MSP market with point solutions. But Barlow insists Sophos has end-to-end solutions backed by machine learning. Moreover, the Sophos MSP Connect Partner Program features the Sophos Central management dashboard -- a single pane of glass for managed security services. But enough about products. What trends does Barlow see? Most MSPs won't transform into true MSSPs (managed security services providers), he suspects. Instead, those MSPs will plug into Master MSPs that offer complete security services. But the definitions vary by region. We agree to regroup on this topic at some later time, perhaps over a cold meatball sandwich in a hot hotel lobby at 2:00 a.m.

1:40 p.m.: Nice Penmanship, And Datto Partner Momentum

Rob Rae Rob Rae
Datto VP of Business Development Rob Rae texts me. He needs 30 seconds of my time. For what? It's a long story. Somehow, we get sidetracked talking about our kids and high school parties. Yada, yada, yada. Weren't they all just in grammar school a year or two ago? Alas, Rae and I don't get too bogged down in Datto talk. After all, the Datto business strategy is clear: Total data protection. The effort started with backup and disaster recovery. But the company more recently has expanded to networking, WiFi and unified threat management. Expect the bigger story at DattoCon 2017...

2:00 p.m.: Pax8 and Cloud-based Distribution

Don Jeter
I've met with the Pax8 team multiple times over the past year. Anecdotal evidence suggests their cloud distribution business is accelerating rapidly. Consider this: The company has about 80 employees today, up from about 40 in November 2016. Plus, headcount should reach about 120 by the end of this year. Plenty of Pax8 folks are at the table for this discussion. Among the new names I get to know: Director of Channel Marketing Don Jeter. He's the name behind Pax8's popular Cloud Wingman marketing and education strategy... Continue to page two for ChannelE2E's additional CompTIA AMM 2017 meetings from Wednesday, March 22. Welcome to page two of our CompTIA AMM 2017 meeting recap...

2:40 p.m.: No Meeting to See Here; Move Along

Kirk Robinson
Kirk Robinson, Ingram Micro's Senior VP of US Go to Market, appears in the hallway. We do not meet. But if we had, I suspect we would have discussed humming at concerts when I don't know any of the lyrics, and Robinson's alleged need for a laptop charger. Fortunately, I'm a networker. A relationship broker. And a matchmaker. Although we don't meet, I introduce Robinson to Jason Bystrak, executive director, the Americas for Ingram Micro Cloud. Bystrak has a charger for Robinson. They become fast friends. Once again, my 'connector' skills have saved the day. Robinson and Bystrak claim otherwise, even alleging they have a direct-report relationship to each other. I'll have to punt that one to our fact checkers.

3:00 p.m.: Ingram Micro Cloud Updates

Jason Bystrak
So, what's going to happen at Ingram Micro Cloud Summit 2017 in April? If you twist his arm, perhaps Ingram's Jason Bystrak will tell you. The smart money says major Odin updates are on the way. In fact, Bystrak confirmed that chatter. Still, the details are too extensive to share here. Stay tuned for a separate blog about Ingram Micro Cloud Summit on Monday, March 27... Or sooner.

3:40 p.m.: Autotask Backup and More

Len DiCostanzo
I run into Autotask Senior VP Len DiCostanzo. When we spoke last fall, DiCostanzo described Autotask's emerging endpoint backup strategy. But I gotta admit: This time around our conversation is about our kids. In fact, our sons could wind up at the same college for the Fall 2017 semester. I wonder if they'll talk off the record... the way Len and I do.

4:00 p.m.: Midmarket Availability Services

Cristina Greysman
I catch some time with Cristina M. Greysman, director of partner experience at Sungard Availability Services. We discuss Sungard AS's rather unique position in the market. The company doesn't really sell hardware or software. Rather, it offers various services to midmarket partners. We begin to discuss next-generation MSPs. What will they look like? And how many of them will either (A) master cloud computing or (B) go into software development or (C) both? On the software development front, I suspect the numbers will be low. But within 12 hours of our conversation, an MSP acquires an Amazon partner with DevOps and software experience... Maybe the trend will accelerate.

5:00: From Channel Chief to Partner CEO

Frank Vitagliano
I grab some time with Frank Vitagliano, who was recently named president and CEO of Computex Technology Solutions, a 200-person solutions provider in Texas. Vitagliano, a former channel chief, previously held prominent posts (nice alliteration, eh?) at Dell, Juniper and IBM. Now, he's calling the shots at Computex. Among his favorite parts of the job: Mentoring team members. We'll share more details in a follow-up interview soon...

5:20: CompTIA's Obligation to Members

Amy Kardel
Nancy Hammervik
Time to get a briefing on CompTIA's overall strategy, care of Executive VP Nancy Hammervik and Chairwoman Amy Kardel (also director and co-founder of Clever Ducks). The big picture looks bright: CompTIA has grown from $40 million to $65 million over the past five years, Hammervik says. But as an association, CompTIA has a responsibility -- an obligation -- to continually help members move forward, she notes. As I mentioned at the top of this blog, the wall between IT pros and channel partners has collapsed. An indicator of that: AITP transitioned its management and control to CompTIA in January. AITP, a leading organization for IT professionals, has "tremendous brand equity," Hammervik asserts. The result will be increased engagement with students and the next generation of technology leaders. Certifications drive the bulk of CompTIA's revenues, but the association is far more than that. The association's core tenants include:
  • Networking
  • Education
  • Thought Leadership
  • Certification
  • Advocacy
  • Philanthropy
CompTIA is genuinely mapping each of those focus areas toward a greater common good for members, Kardel notes. Among the priorities:
  • Exploring how to prepare CompTIA and its members for the future;
  • Shaping next-generation business models for channel partners and IT professionals;
  • Empowering the workforce of the future; and
  • a range of cyber, workforce, channel and professional society  efforts.
We'll offer another update on those efforts at ChannelCon 2017 in August -- or sooner.

6:00 p.m.: Mailprotector's CEO - Forever a Business Builder

Brian Sherman
David Setzer
Mailprotector CEO David Setzer comes from a family of entrepreneurs. "God made me a builder," he says. "It just happens to be the things I build are businesses." Mailprotector, an email security provider, is more than a decade old. But the company's rate of growth accelerated 700 percent since about Q2 2016. The reason? Setzer got serious about the channel. And partners discovered email -- and associated security -- was a ubiquity rather than a commodity, he asserts. Setzer credits Virtual Channel Chief Ted Roller of GetChanneled for that momentum. "The channel partner discussion is all about business building," Setzer says. "Most partners with five to 50 employees are still run by their founders." Now, Mailprotector wants to make those founders more successful through deeper engagements. Mailprotector just announced funding. But I get the sense some bigger moves are coming later this year. Ask Setzer, Roller or GetChanneled Chief Content Officer Brian Sherman for the details...

6:30 p.m.: MSP Market Pioneers

Zak Karsan
Dan Wensley
Colin Knox
Amy Hodge
I forgot to have lunch. I scramble to find some hors d'oeuvres. Along the way I bump into:
  • Amy Hodge, senior director of community at ConnectWise, one of the MSP software market's 'original' early movers. Among the brand experts on hand at this event: ConnectWise Sell team members. Sell, the former Quosal, is a quoting and sales proposal software platform. The idea: Accelerate quote-to-cash engagements. Or as I put it: Accelerate a customer's time to consumption...
  • Colin Knox, CEO of Passportal, a fast-growing provider of password management and document management software for MSPs. Knox, by the way, is a former MSP owner.
  • Dan Wensley, president of Passportal. Wensley constantly offers Knox a healthy "reality check" to ensure Passportal executes on its business strategy. Why's that? Because Wensley worked overtime to help pioneer the MSP software market during his time at Level Platforms. That company got acquired but not at a big valuation. Passportal gives Wensley a fresh, fast-growth opportunity. And on the flipside, Wensley gives Passportal an experienced executive who navigated many of the MSP market's early challenges.
  • Zak Karsan, CEO of Vault America. Karsan is a serial entrepreneur and angel investor. Among his latest startups: SecureEDEN, which "will be the technology used to help secure our nation's critical infrastructure and command-and-control systems." Hmmm... Where does a guy like this develop his initial entrepreneurial skills? The answer involves Bentley University. Maybe I'll need to visit there sometime... ... ...

7:00 p.m: What Is An MSP Accelerator?

Tommy Wald
My last "official" meeting of the day is with Tommy Wald, who recently joined Xcellerate at CEO. I've known Wald since about 2008. I've interviewed him amid multiple MSP build-outs and company sales. Now he's back to help Xcellerate build a so-called MSP accelerator. But what types of technologies does Xcellerate have hidden behind its curtains? Hmmm... Let's just say there's far more than meets the eye. But mum's the word for now.

8:00 p.m.: Dinner With Marie Meoli Rourke

Marie Meoli Rourke
Long day. But there was one more deliverable for the day. I had to buy Marie Meoli Rourke dinner to thank her for lining up quite a few of the interviews above. Oh, and to thank her for telling me where and when to be at each meeting. Truth be told, we didn't have dinner. But I wanted to offer this virtual thanks and publicly extend the dinner invite for whatever city pops up next on the radar. In a world filled with unorganized bloggers like me, everything would stop without PR gurus like Rourke. Or as most of us in the IT world still call her: Meoli. Thanks for the interviews, Meoli. When it comes to making strategic meetings happen (real or imagined), you are everyone's virtual GPS in the IT channel.

 Conclusion: Why I Don't Worry About 'Channel' Partners

CompTIA and many of its members are raising all the right questions about channel partner health and evolution. Plus, the association is effectively pushing beyond the channel and IT pro discussion to address larger issues -- involving talent, diversity, long-term career evolution, training and so much more. The discussions are pertinent and timely. Tune in, and you may even worry about the 'health' or 'evolution' of partners. But I'm not worried. Whether it's cloud services, big data or profit margins, the challenges ahead can seem pretty darn tall. But I keep coming back to the dollars and cents of it all. As TruMethods CEO Gary Pica will tell you, business is nothing more than a math problem. Instead of racing off to build a new cloud or IT service that pursues growth, call a timeout. Study your existing business model. Maximize for EBITDA profit margin instead of top-line revenue growth. Learn common metrics. The typical VAR has sub-10 percent EBITDA profit margin. Best-in-class MSPs will have 20+ percent EBITDA profit margin, Service Leadership CEO Paul Dippell will tell you. Attend conferences and network with the right people to learn the math behind those numbers. Once you've automated and squeezed out costs, then you can worry about taking the next hill -- whether it's cloud, big data, IoT or something else. Thanks for reading and see you at ChannelCon 2017 in July-August...
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.