SolarWinds MSP’s Dave Sobel talks opportunities and threats for partners in emerging technologies

Sobel, a member of CompTIA’s Executive Committee of the Emerging Technology Community, discussed what the committee has identified as the top three technologies for 2019 – as well as one that was not even on the Top Ten list, but which Sobel thinks is critical for solution providers.

Dave Sobel, Senior Director, MSP Evangelism at SolarWinds MSP

LAS VEGAS — Emerging technologies, and the challenges and opportunities in effectively implementing and monetizing them is a focus of the CompTIA’s Executive Committee of the Emerging Technology Community Community. One of its members, Dave Sobel, Senior Director, MSP Evangelism at SolarWinds MSP talked with ChannelBuzz about his take on the committee’s work here, with specific relevance to its importance to solution providers. He will be addressing the issue further on Tuesday, as part of a panel discussion on future trends in the industry from 1045-1145, in the Gauguin Room at the Bellagio, as part of CompTIA ChannelCon.

Senior Director, MSP Evangelism is a curious job title, which sounds like one that a person created themselves – which in this case happens to be true.

“My job is running the integration programs for SolarWinds MSP – how we work with other vendors and providers,” Sobel said. “It’s also about establishing us in a position of thought leadership in the industry.” That involves acting as a voice of the company and ‘face of the organization’ at public events and with industry organizations.

“Community engagement is important in contributing our voice to the collective industry, and is also a great way to connect with our own customers,” Sobel said.

At CompTIA, that engagement involves Sobel serving on the Executive Committee of the Emerging Technology Community, something in which he takes a deep personal interest as well as professional. That committee recently issued a new edition for 2019 of what they consider to be the IT community’s Top 10 Emerging Technologies – not just ones that have had the most hype, but those which would have the most impact for the business of technology. The Internet of Things came in first, followed by AI and 5G. Accordingly, the committee has been engaged in a series of three white papers on those three key emerging technologies.

“The IoT white paper has been released, and provides practical advice about how  to go to market around the Internet of Things,” Sobel said. “It looks at the possibilities of these connected systems and the business outcomes that you can derive from that.”

This includes understanding the entire broad IoT ecosystem beyond just the hardware ‘things,’ with software playing a key role in connecting and orchestrating all the devices, and services providing access for the large majority of firms that won’t build their own IoT systems. Partnering will be another important way for smaller organizations without the resources to build these skills in house to develop IoT strategies.

“For solution providers, in determining the business outcomes from these initiatives, it’s all about asking the question ‘why?’” Sobel said. “What is the outcome that the organization is trying to create. Today, it’s possible to get very practical about this, and solution providers should be exploring how to do that.” The white paper emphasizes that solution providers’ and IT staffs’ understanding of technology and support needs and costs position them well to lead the discussion in determining IoT ROI, and make them more relevant to the strategic direction of a business. Determining specific use cases about whether IoT technology is right for a business is a critical part of this process – as it is for AI and 5G.

“Companies from the physical, operational technology side are also trying to move into this area, and this just screams partnering opportunity,” Sobel added. “The traditional CompTIA partner is stronger in the IT security space.”

With respect to AI, Sobel stressed a key point about how it will fit into the IT economy and solution providers’ businesses specifically.

“AI is super cool, and it will be in everything,” he said. “But a very small number of organizations will actually build AI. Everyone else will be consumers of AI – including IT solution providers and their customers.  IT solution providers aren’t going to hire a couple AI experts to their staff. That’s not how its going down. So while AI is super-important, its just as important to recognize that solution providers and customers are consumers of it.”

Similarly, while Sobel said that 5G is interesting, most people don’t truly get the implications yet, and that solution providers specifically may be missing a key implication.

“With 5G, the focus has been on the telco opportunity, but it’s bigger than that,” he said. “Because there is such a significant leap in the amount of bandwidth, that has major implications in what it means for infrastructure. These implications won’t sneak up on people. With more bandwidth, we can predict how, when and where it will roll out. But consider – if you are in a position where everything will have huge download speeds, will you wire things any more? Probably not. You are more likely to put devices straight on top of the Internet. That’s a major change in the way we do networking design – and that’s a big deal for solution providers who have been building networks the same way for a long time.”

Finally, Sobel directed his attention to digital ethics and privacy – which didn’t even make CompTIA’s top ten list, although he clearly thinks it should have.

“It is on Gartner’s list of the ten things they think will be big in 2019, and is the only one of them that is non-technical,” he said.

Sobel thinks that digital ethics and privacy creates an enormous opportunity for solution providers.

“We have hit a tipping point culturally with our tolerance for ridiculousness, and we have hit the point where people are asking really good hard questions,” he noted. “The actions of Facebook, Google and Apple have been doing a great job in laying the groundwork for questions about ethics. We as technologists need to say what is the ‘Black Mirror moment’” [Black Mirror is a Netflix series about the unintended consequences of technology where things go terribly wrong].

“The channel really has an opportunity here to ask these questions about new technologies being put into place,” Sobel stressed. “Can these technologies be used in horrific ways? Now there’s high-value consulting for you – helping companies ask those questions.”

Ethics issues require solution providers rethinking some of their approaches to business, Sobel added.

“Traditionally, every security conversation has been ‘what things can we sell them to plug a tech hole.’ But the number one thing that causes a breach is people. The number one thing an IT solution provider can help organizations with is the people side of things. We can talk about implementation, policies and procedures that make a difference, and that’s a great opportunity. With society and customers collectively demanding solutions for this, digital privacy is a great opportunity for solution providers.”