Amid the shifting MSP software landscape, ConnectWise CEO Arnie Bellini appears remarkably relaxed. During an hour-long meeting yesterday at Automation Nation 2016, we discussed the evolving competitive landscape; emerging opportunities for IT entrepreneurs and technology service providers; and ConnectWise's key R&D priorities.
The interview arrived during a major inflection point for the overall MSP software industry. Through mergers, acquisitions and private equity deals, numerous companies are now building software suites (on-premises and/or cloud) for MSPs.
The journey toward MSP software suites started around 2010, when ConnectWise invested in LabTech and several follow-on deals in the years that followed. Fast forward to 2016, and multiple companies (Autotask, Continuum, Kaseya, SolarWinds MSP, etc.) have either acquired or launched additional products for their MSP portfolios. And in a cousin industry, data protection and security companies (names like Datto, Barracuda Networks, eFolder, StorageCraft, etc.) have embarked on similar M&A or R&D journeys targeting the MSP software sector.
In some ways, the current MSP software market resembles the desktop GUI wars between Microsoft and Netscape Communications in the 1990s. Microsoft wanted users to live in Windows Explorer and Internet Explorer, even as Netscape pushed hard with its Navigator browser. Apply that example to the current MSP software market, and each vendor wants to be the de facto dashboard for MSPs.
Specialized Cockpits for Specialized Users
Still, Bellini sees the market a bit differently. Yes, ConnectWise is developing a single graphical user interface -- one shell -- that will eventually stretch across its products (ConnectWise, LabTech, Quosal, ScreenConnect, CloudConsole). LabTech GM Brett Cheloff revealed the single shell concept during Automation Nation 2016 on Tuesday.
But here's the twist: Bellini believes each type of user needs his or her own type of "customized cockpit." A few examples:
- LabTech technicians need to live in an RMM-type cockpit, viewing the information that's relevant to them.
- Sales professionals need to live in sales quoting and proposal software cockpit, viewing the info that's relevant to them.
- CXOs, CMOs and other business leaders need to live in financial and marketing cockpits.
- And the list goes on.
The big challenge: How can a software company deliver a single GUI across multiple products -- which also allowing each type of user (technician, sales, CXO, etc.) to still "live and work" in their respective cockpits?
Bellini believes he has found the answer with customized cockpits. The idea is to deliver the same overall user experience across all the ConnectWise software platforms, and not force users to jump between platforms. A case in point: Cheloff demonstrated how technicians can completely live in LabTech's dashboard while still navigating ConnectWise's PSA information.
The single ConnectWise GUI -- across all platforms -- won't arrive overnight. It sounds like ScreenConnect and Quosal will gain the GUI enhancements first, with LabTech and Quosal to follow thereafter. I suspect ConnectWise will demonstrate major progress on the single GUI front during IT Nation 2016 in November.
Key ConnectWise Priorities
Meanwhile, Bellini and the ConnectWise team are balancing several key priorities. During separate interviews with President David Bellini and Chief Revenue Officer Adam Slutskin, the executives described the company's ongoing global expansion efforts, and various company milestones that have emerged in recent months.
And during our sit-down with Arnie Bellini, he touched on these points:
LabTech 11: The newly launched RMM upgrade is available immediately to MSPs that attended the conference. It's all about "raw speed in several categories," said Bellini. "LabTech is the strongest and fastest RMM system for automation and scripting. If you can imagine it, you can do it in LabTech -- and everything happens at lightning speed. We've completely overhauled the automation engine. And we're eliminating the line between PSA and RMM with a custom cockpit for managed services technicians."
Balancing Cloud and On-Premises: He pointed to ongoing momentum for CloudConsole, which will soon extend beyond Office 365 management to Azure management. Launched earlier this year, CloudConsole already has more than 1 million Office 365 seats under management, he said.
While some technology will remain on-premises, MSPs shouldn't fight the cloud shift. "Every time a customer has an on-premises inflection point -- the need to upgrade Exchange, SharePoint or some other on-premises server -- it's a moment where another workload will likely go off to the cloud," says Bellini. "Don't fight it. Monetize it. Manage it."
On the Overall Technology Industry's Health: "Nothing can stop this market because no company can survive without a healthy dose of technology. As Gartner would tell you, every company is now a technology company. Everyone talks about the obvious disrupters like Uber and AirBnB. But if you take a closer look at absolutely any industry, you'll see the disrupters in each category. Embrace that reality and find the recurring revenue opportunity in each category."
On ConnectWise's 2015 Reorganization Into a Single Company: "We’ve always been able to work nicely as a joint venture . But as one company, we're now able to align resources, align roadmaps, and create more seamless interoperability. The great part is our employees -- our talent pool -- can now cross between boarders within the company. They can change lanes within the company and that's been an amazing aspect of our reorg."
On a Potential ConnectWise IPO or Private Equity Deal: Actually, we didn't discuss that. But throughout the conference, it became clear to me that ConnectWise intends to remain independent, self-funded and in 100 percent control of its destiny. I'll share more views on that, based on my own observations, sometime soon...