Small business, MSP

ConnectWise 4.0: New and Improved ‘Democraship’?

ConnectWise Arnie Bellini
Arnie Bellini

On stage. In the halls. In private meetings. ConnectWise CEO Arnie Bellini has been remarkably relaxed at this year's IT Nation 2016 conference. Why's that? The answer involves a trip to Silicon Valley, clarity of purpose, and a term called "democraship." The result is what could be ConnectWise 4.0.

Here's the journey so far.

ConnectWise 1.0 (1982): This involved the original ConnectWise IT services business launched more than three decades ago. Arnie and brother David Bellini left their accounting careers to move into IT services.

ConnectWise 2.0 (1990s-2009): Here, Arnie and David began to build out a software company to help IT service providers automate their businesses.

ConnectWise 3.0 (2010-2015): Here, ConnectWise launched an investment arm and pumped money into LabTech (remote monitoring and management software), Quosal (quoting and sales proposal software) and ScreenConnect (remote control; this was a pure buyout). While the suite concept was powerful, I sense that ConnectWise and its sister companies acted much like a democracy during this stage of the far-flung organizations. Multiple executives were at the table, sometimes debating like Congress about where to head next. At times, I suspect building consensus was challenging.

ConnectWise 4.0 (December 2015-Present): By late 2015, ConnectWise reorganized into a single business and shifted to a democraship -- the combination of a democracy and a dictatorship. Multiple executives and team members still have a voice at the table. It takes multiple people, of course, to percolate the best ideas. But then it takes a leader -- Bellini -- to affirm the strategy. At least, that's how I see it.

Bellini: Three Steps to Clarity

Over the past year or so, at least three events have allowed Bellini to achieve clarity of purpose.

Event 1: Receiving and reading a book from his wife. What was it? Here's a clue... You'll likely find it on this list.

Event 2: Reading The Breakthrough Company by Keith McFarland. The book focuses on the most successful Inc. 5000 companies, and the 6 percent of small, growing businesses that create 60% of the jobs. Those companies, McFarland, typically have "democraships." The concept: Democracies are great at coming up with ideas, but dictatorships are great at executing ideas. Bellini, under the single-company reorg, apparently embraced the democraship concept.

Event 3: Key ConnectWise leaders attended an executive MBA course in Silicon Valley in December 2015. Amid the week-long course, ConnectWise developed a common framework and nomenclature to march the business forward.

ConnectWise: Pursuing Simplicity

Amid those milestones and events, Bellini essentially has gone back to basics in recent months. To prepare for his IT Nation keynote, he disappeared into the "Owl's Nest" -- a private area in his home -- for two weeks. He connected big-picture trends (storage, broadband, processing power, etc.) back to the IT channel. The vast majority of the keynote was a home run, though there was one small foul ball -- aspirational statements about Tesla cars, which are out of reach for most IT Nation attendees.

Still, it's difficult to knock Bellini for the Tesla mention. Much in the way that "experiencing" the iPhone changed the cell phone game, experiencing a Tesla will change your perception of multiple markets (computers, IoT, cloud, artificial intelligence, etc.).

The link between Bellini's keynote (Thursday) and McFarland's keynote (Friday) morning was nearly flawless. McFarland spoke in IT service provider, SMB and entrepreneurial terms. He described 90-day approaches to developing strategy, performing course corrections every 90 days, and plenty more. (We'll describe some more keynote takeaways soon.)

What does all this mean for ConnectWise and its partners? During the summit, ConnectWise overhauled its product branding, demonstrated new user interfaces and vowed to innovate more quickly.

And therein resides the key challenge and opportunity. The ConnectWise reorgs are over. The competition is intensifying. It's time for ConnectWise to innovate more rapidly. Bellini says that will happen more rapidly in 2017. I sense that democraship will be core to the effort.

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.