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IT Glue GlueCon: Panel of Titans

Although competition remains fierce in the MSP and IT service provider software market, there are signs that the cold wars are ending. In fact, a quiet but important dialog is opening up between many of the market's top competitors. Soon, that dialog will shift from back office conversations to a center-stage moment.

In a potential milestone moment, IT Glue says it has confirmed the following industry pioneers will appear together on "The Panel of Titans" at the GlueCon 2018 conference in September:

The confirmed panel participants include:

After weeks of rumors, IT Glue confirmed the panel and the participants to ChannelE2E on Thursday. The confirmation included an extra wrinkle; Chris Day asked if I'd step onto the stage and moderate the session. Simply stated: Of course.

Cooling of the Cold Wars?

I'm not suggesting that the panelists are suddenly best of friends. While Day and Pica are the virtual Switzerlands on this particular panel, the other four leaders are fierce competitors.

Still, there are signs that communication lines between industry leaders are improving. For instance, both Datto and ConnectWise have vowed to keep their flagship conferences (DattoCon and IT Nation, respectively) open to any interested technology vendor -- even if the vendor competes against the host companies. Of course, each conference has a price for entry -- but the doorway for rivals to potentially attend and exhibit is at least in place.

Another sign of progress: Attend a Kaseya MSP M&A Symposium, and you'll hear CEO Fred Voccola describe a bit of the MSP industry's software history. The highlights typically include a tip of the hat to Kaseya co-founder Gerald Blackie and ConnectWise co-founder Arnie Bellini, whom Voccola credits for laying the foundation for the market.

The peacemakers include Continuum CEO Michael George. Though fiercely competitive and always ready to promote the merits of his firm's business model, George often is the first executive to stand up and publicly congratulate a rival on a key milestone.

SolarWinds MSP's John Pagliuca

Admittedly, there's more room for progress. MSPs want true cross-vendor product integration without any finger pointing when something goes wrong. And key leaders want alleged back-office mud slinging to stop. Just this week, SolarWinds MSP GM John Pagliuca blasted rivals for allegedly spreading fake news about his company's RMM strategy.

No doubt, sales teams can sometimes spread false or misleading rumors about a range of topics. That's not good for the industry, and the MSPs within it.

Still, I tend to be a glass-half-full type of guy. I do see progress in terms of cross-company communications. And I do think panels like the one IT Glue has pulled together represent important moments in time for the industry.

Bulls, Bears and the Next Big Bets

What will the panel discuss? Here's a hint: We won't be covering products. Not at all. Casual observers may expect some competitive drama -- perhaps even a few jabs between rivals. But my personal expectations are different.

There are bigger issues at hand. We are, after all, likely nearing another market inflection point -- for both MSPs and their software providers. The MSP market is growing 10 to 12 percent annually, depending on whom you believe. SMBs are consuming technology and associated services like never before. Even giants like Cisco Systems are waking up and giving the SMB sector a second look -- all through the lens of MSP partners.

Meanwhile, private equity has flooded into the market -- scooping up software providers and even the MSPs they serve. Cloud is no longer a question mark. Talent remains scarce and expensive. Basic automation may give way to artificial intelligence. Security and compliance are the modern day Jekyll and Hyde -- unlocking new  opportunities and burying quite a few bodies along the way.

Roll it all together, and I keep asking myself the same question: When the nine-year-old bull market finally ends, will recurring revenue business models (and your own company's valuation) stand strong against the bear?

I'll go searching for answers during the Panel of Titans at GlueCon.

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.