I think it's safe to say that we are all Zoomed-out from virtual events. They can be good – and some can be great – but there’s no substitution for the face-to-face conversations and relationship building that are the hallmark for those of us in the IT Channel.
So I was thrilled to join a group of channel colleagues to hit the road on the now-famous (thanks to Forrester’s Jay McBain’s shout out on his blog) Channel Strong: The Positive Vibes Tour. Acronis, BVoIP, Pax8, Liongard, ConnectBooster, Compliancy Group, and SocSoter developed an interstate roadshow where we’re collaborating, traveling together, and holding outdoor channel meetups in several cities over three weeks.
The tour kicked off this week, with events planned Chicago, Kansas City, Denver, Phoenix, and Anaheim – and I thought it would be fun to share some thoughts from the road.
Before we headed out on the road during this challenging time, we had to establish some ground rules to ensure the safety of everyone on the tour and attending the events. All of the tour participants have taken tremendous precautions – getting tested for COVID-19, taking temperatures regularly, and following all of the recommendations from the CDC.
To get from location to location without adding any risk to ourselves or others, we’re traveling in an RV. That way we’ve created a rolling quarantine bubble for us on the road.
We’ve also limited the number of people at these events to ensure proper social distancing is possible. It’s not that we don’t want to see all of our friends in each of these great cities, but it is the responsible thing to do for all involved.
Channel means community
For most of our colleagues in the channel, the drive to help local businesses and our local community is strong. After all, as local MSPs, we live and work in the same community and we all want a great place to live. Being an engaged corporate neighbor is natural, and that commitment to all things local is playing a role on our Positive Vibes Tour.
At each stop along our tour, the price of admission to the Channel Strong event is a couple of canned goods that will be given to a local food bank. We’ve collected a good amount of canned food to be donated to those in need, our tour partners PAX8 brought in a few carloads of food, and in Denver they included pet food in their donation – something I never even would have thought about.
In addition to the food collection, each stop is enabling us to give a boost to local small businesses who’ve been hit hard by the pandemic, since we’re using local restaurants, food trucks, and other vendors to facilitate our tailgate-style events.
Selling security services: Starting in Chicago
In every stop we’ve made so far, one topic has dominated the conversation – the growing demand for cybersecurity and how service providers can meet the needs of clients.
In Chicago, the conversation focused on the difference there was (if any) between managed service providers (MSPs) and managed security service providers (MssPs). Are they the same? Do they need to be?
The MSP model has always been about supporting the devices, supporting the network, and supporting the users. But cybersecurity is increasingly critical for every client as cyberthreats become more sophisticated and more prolific. MSPs find that they cannot think about delivering any services to their clients without first addressing today’s cybersecurity threats.
MSPs are quickly evolving their models to deliver cybersecurity first, which means the distinction between MSP and MssP seems to be disappearing – they are becoming one and the same.
Or, as Michael Schultz of Firelogic Technology Services said in Chicago, “We may not be considered an MssP, but that’s what we do.”
Kansas City insights
The topic of delivering cybersecurity services continued as we spoke with our event hosts in Kansas City, Blue Tree Technology.
It was an extremely fun event – we met the Blue Tree team and toured their offices with each member of the Channel Strong group visiting one at a time. We also heard from Blue Tree, an Acronis partner, on how they’ve built a great business servicing small- and medium-sized businesses in the greater KC area.
In talking with Matt Horning and his wife Isadora, the co-owners of Blue Tree, our conversation eventually turned to delivering security services to clients. They explained how they’ve grown and evolved over the years to build a business focused on cybersecurity.
Matt explained that for Blue Tree, the only difference between their MSP business and an MssP is that the MssPs tend to focus on a specific compliance vertical. Meanwhile, Matt, Isadora, and their team service organizations across all industries.
Like many cities across the country, downtown Denver has been pretty quiet as folks moved from the offices there to work from home. That’s hit the local economy pretty hard and one partner who has an office downtown said he hadn’t been there since March.
The transition of downtown Denver’s office workers to work-from-home employees highlights the new IT challenges organizations face. And what we heard from the Denver crowd was that MSPs are on high alert.
For many, the constantly growing and changing nature of cyberthreats is overwhelming. Some MSPs are even questioning if they should continue to take the risk of supporting clients when many of those clients won’t take security seriously.
Even if their clients do take security seriously, several MSPs wondered if they should be thinking about exit strategies now to avoid the liability and expense of running a business in an industry that eventually may become regulated.
These concerns aren’t necessarily going to be solved from this Channel Strong tour, but it is giving us a chance to hear the concerns that are in the Channel, offer insights into how cyber protection solutions built for MSPs can help ease the burden of meeting client needs, and begin to work together to build a better, #ChannelStrong future together.