Industry Pundits Clash Over MSP-Agent, IT-Telecom Convergence


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CHANNEL PARTNERS VIRTUAL — The jury’s still out on convergence between MSP and telecom agent channels.

The worlds are coming together if you ask Andrew Pryfogle, Pax8‘s chief market development officer. Pryfogle said Pax8 is seeing agents enter into managed services while MSP partners introduce telecom services.

But not all of Pryfogle’s peers are buying his outlook.

Pax8's Andrew Pryfogle

Pax8’s Andrew Pryfogle

“Convergence means you’re bringing something to the table that we don’t have,” said Rob Rae, Datto‘s senior vice president of business development, in reference to agents. “But you’re not bringing anything.”

Rae, Pryfogle, Bill Power and Jared Martin debated the topic at the Channel Partners Virtual event on Tuesday.

Pryfogle said MSPs stand to lose customers, particularly SMB customers, to agents that sell telecom-related technologies that the MSP portfolio doesn’t contain. Agents can get a foot in the door with a UCaaS, fiber or SD-WAN conversation and steal the client, Pryfogle said.

But Rae said the biggest danger exists for agents, who are realizing that their traditional business model is dying. In the meantime, Datto and its MSP partners continue to chart positive sales forecasts, even during a pandemic.

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Rob Rae

Datto’s Rob Rae

“The MSP channel is actually flourishing, which is part of the reason why I can understand why you would want to converge with this space,” Rae said.

No one is denying that agents need to increase their recurring revenue.

“The agents have seen a shift in the market. They’re looking for ways to stay relevant when it’s no longer just about bandwidth and transaction. The future really is managed services,” said Jared Martin, vice president of MSx managed services for TPx Communications.

Case in Point

Both sides of the debate pointed to TPx as evidence for their case. The long-time CLEC rebranded three years ago to focus more on managed services than connectivity. Martin said his company converged, because at the end of the day, the market demanded it.

TPx's Jared Martin

TPx’s Jared Martin

“For us, it was all about reading the tea leaves, that managed services component was the future,” Martin said.

While Martin and Pryfogle used TPx as a positive example of convergence, Rae viewed the company as an an outlier.

“That [transition] took a significant lift. It took a lot of investment and time, resources and money. And people just don’t have it. They don’t have the will to do it,” Rae said.

The Alliance's Bill Power

The Alliance’s Bill Power

Agent Alliance CEO Bill Power, who works in the telco industry but sided with Rae, pointed to the skills aspect. Although Power believes that a slow, infant-stage convergence is occurring, most agents won’t be able to bridge the managed services skills gap. He said the legacy telco agent channel has relied on its subject matter expertise.

“To me, being an expert means I know this much more about what you know about whatever the subject matter is. To talk to somebody about voice circuits or telephony or data circuits or wide area networks, it’s pretty easy to know this much more than the office administrator or the office manager in a customer opportunity,” Power said. “Now we’re talking about technology and solutions that are infinitely more complicated, and I don’t know this much more than the CIO about security or some of the virtualized services these guys are selling.”

The Outcome

Although a majority of online attendees voted in favor of the “Yes” team, both sides seemed to be getting at the truth. JS Group CEO Janet Schijns, who moderated the debate, gave a nuanced conclusion.

JS Group's Janet Schijns

JS Group’s Janet Schijns

“I do think we’re seeing a little bit of convergence, but I don’t think it’s a total convergence,” Schijns said.

A similar debate took place last year at Channel Partners Evolution. Rae and Pryfogle debated each other, joined by Peter Radizeski and Michael Bremmer, respectively.

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