Twin themes of empowerment and security guide ConnectWise messaging to MSPs

ConnectWise stressed two main themes at their IT Nation Event in Orlando – the need to further empower MSPs, and the need for MSPs to develop their security capabilities. Those two themes were closely intertwined, as ConnectWise is rolling out multiple tools and programs to enhance both, with more to come.

Arnie Bellini onstage at IT Nation Connect 2018

ORLANDO – “We are passing the torch on to you.”

Sure, it’s a metaphor, but it was repeated many times at various points throughout the main keynote address at ConnectWise’s IT Nation Connect event here. The symbol of this year’s event was the torch, and that symbol was especially meaningful at this year’s event said ConnectWise CEO Arnie Bellini, because this year’s event was all about launching the new IT Nation and passing the torch to ConnectWise’s MSP clientele. Equally meaningful, Bellini stressed, is the need for MSPs to take practical and necessary steps to develop security expertise. That does not mean that MSPs need to become MSSPs, but it does mean that they have to scale up their skills. Bellini also pledged ConnectWise’s commitment within IT Nation to help partners develop those skills. This will come with new tools, through the Protect Your House campaign. It will also come from a commitment to build a cybersecurity framework, which will be open standard, and by ConnectWise’s pledge to use their purchasing power and influence in the industry to make cybersecurity more affordable, and ensure MSPs can sell it at a profitable margin.

“The symbol of the torch is about lighting the way,” Bellini told the approximately 3600 attendees at this year’s event. “We are passing the torch to you.”

Bellini said that ‘Connect Everything’ was the theme of the 2018 IT Nation Connect.

“That is what technology will do. Eventually it will connect everything. It’s about connecting to knowledge, connecting to people and connecting to success – to absolutely everything. The Connect event is focused on business, and getting the game plan in your business. Connect is not about products. It’s about business. What drives our businesses? What will make us successful? The idea is to focus deeply on what you need to do to be successful in this business. There are so many partners here who are eager to share everything they know to help you do that, That’s what this event is all about.”

In contrast, IT Nation Explore, what used to be Automation Nation, is the product-focused event. IT Nation Share is the former ConnectWise Users Groups, while IT Nation Evolve is the old HTG, the peer group organization which ConnectWise acquired early this year.

“We merged with HTG, because we can really go deep and create accountability with each other,” Bellini said. “I don’t think any private equity firm would have let us make that investment. HTG, now IT Nation Evolve, is a great service that we can bring to you. We spend $14 million a year putting on these events because they are important to you.”

Bellini said that ConnectWise’s core belief is that technology is creating a better future, which means by extension that its partners are as well, and that their role in this process will increase as more and more of IT is increasingly delivered as a service.

“We believe that all of technology will be delivered as a service – not some of it, but all of it,” Bellini told his audience. “It will take project work to get some of it in place, but it will be delivered as a service. Its you that will deliver it – manage it, embed it service it. So you really are technology. That’s why we are so dedicated to you. Each and every one of you are creating a better future.”

Bellini discussed some statistics that he joked cost ConnectWise a lot of money to gather. In 2016, managed services worldwide were $83 billion. In 2021, they are projected to be $154 billion – a 13 per cent cumulative growth rate.

“It’s yours for the taking,” he told the MSPs. “All you need to do is run your business the right way. All of us will have trouble keeping up, because demand is growing. More people will come into the business as a result.”

That means MSPs need to be creative with their businesses.

“You know you have to add new services,” Bellini said. “You can’t just stand still where you are. You have to create competitive differentiation for yourself.”

Security is the most critical way to create this differentiation.

“Maybe only about 50 partners do cyberdefense right today,” Bellini said. “There is a huge opportunity there for you. You absolutely have to own security.”

To assist in this, ConnectWise will provide public education to IT Nation, with free webinars around security, starting December 6. That first seminar will feature Bellini and John Ford, CEO of Sienna Group, who will provide best practices about how to set appropriate expectations with customers on where customer cybersecurity liability falls, what to do in the event of a breach, and the role the solution provider can and should play.

“Our webinars will teach services they can provide,” he told MSPs. “This is a world you can conquer. I am encouraging you to jump into this.”

Bellini also introduced what he termed the Protect Your House campaign, to provide partners with security tools. ConnectWise’s partnership with Tampa- based MSSP Sienna Group will make a Cybersecurity Risk Assessment Tool available to partners, which will be free for the first three months.

“We will make it really affordable for you to get into it,” Bellini said. “The risk assessment tool will eliminate your liability. We will make it free for three months. We need to make this affordable, and within a single pane of glass.” ConnectWise and Sienna Group have also collaborated on the development of an agent-based vulnerability scanner to identify and catalog weaknesses across IP addresses. It too will be made available to partners.

Another strategic partner that is part of this campaign is Perch Security, whose CEO, Aharon Chernin was instrumental in the industry adoption of STIX and TAXII standards around cyberthreat information. ConnectWise was an investor in Perch’s Series A funding round announced last month.

“Perch is an intrusion detection and threat intelligent platform, which is purpose-built for MSPs,” Bellini said. “It is also capable of being your SOC [Security Operations Centre] or being used by your SOC. Perch can look at every packet of data that travels on your network, through it, or around it. It’s basically listening on the wire. It’s an amazing centerpiece of defense, and from that we can coordinate other solutions, like the vulnerability scanner.”

Bellini said that the Percha platform and its SOC capabilities will be made available to partners, at ConnectWise’s cost.

“This is how many solution providers will get started on SOC,” Bellini said. “You don’t have to have cyber experts on staff. Some partners who have SOCs say that Percha is a better tool to give what the SOC needs, without a lot of false positives.”

In addition to the intrusion detection, threat intelligence and SOC capabilities from Perch, there is more on the way, Bellini said.

“Coming in January is a next-generation SIEM,” he said. “SIEM is old school, but Perch takes a new fresh approach, with completely automated log gathering. Nobody has this. Their founder is the inventor of STIX and TAXII, and they are now doing the same thing with SOAR [Security Orchestration, Automation and Response].”

Bellini said that acquisitions by ConnectWise to make more capabilities available are part of the plan.

“ConnectWise is loading up for acquisitions,” he said. “We’ve raised a 60 million dollar fund and we will make serious investments in cybersecurity – specifically around vulnerability scanning, security orchestration and automated response. All of our investments are positioned to deliver cybersecurity in an organized orchestrated system with a ConnectWise platform. We will take automation steps to remediate cyberattacks and respond to create a better cyberdefense posture.”

Also part of the plan is an open standard cybersecurity framework.

“We are creating an interface for security products,” Bellini said. “We are building a cybersecurity framework that will allow cybersecurity tools to interact and talk with each other and we are creating that as an open standard. That’s why we invited Tim Berners-Lee [inventor of the World Wide Web] here to the conference to speak. He made his framework, the Internet, free to the world and that made it relevant.”

Bellini emphasized that the goal in developing MSP security skills is not to try and make MSPs into MSSPs, something that is difficult and expensive, especially for smaller organizations whose security experts are liable to be poached in a market where their skills are in short supply.

“It’s not a question of moving an MSP up to an MSSP,” he said. “It’s moving from an MSP 1, to an MSP 2, to an MSP 3. We are making aggressive investments in cybersecurity to drive the price down so it is affordable. We will use our purchasing power and our influence in the industry so MSPs can mark security up and make money, and SMBs will be able to afford it. Socially responsible companies like ConnectWise will invest in IT Nation to fight this cyberwar.”

Bellini acknowledged there will be some skepticism about ConnectWise’s commitment to these investments.

“They heard the words, and now, they have to see the deeds,” he said. “If they judge us based on what we have done historically, they will see that we do what we say we will do. MSPs had influence before. Now, with the new IT Nation, they get to legislate it. We have our Senate – the Advisory Council – the ambassadors of the IT Nation. Every citizen has a voice and we are constantly listening and finding a signal through the noise. And so is our Advisory Council, who are all very active elders.”