Comcast, Kaseya, Alert Logic Debate Convergence in #CPExpo Panel

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By T.C. Doyle

What’s the likelihood that telecom agents and IT managed services providers converge as a single market force? The answer depends upon whom you ask.

Today, there is great debate within the information and telecommunications technology (ICT) channel over which business model will prevail or even if these types of companies actually compete.

Comcast's Craig Schlagbaum

Comcast’s Craig Schlagbaum

They occupy different places in the tech universe,” says Craig Schlagbaum, vice president of indirect channels at Comcast Business. But others aren’t so sure. Take Chris Rajiah, senior vice president of global alliances and partnerships at Alert Logic. Rajiah sees many instances of agent and MSP collaboration, not to mention convergence. More than few of the agents he’s familiar with offer MSP services today.

Whether channel convergence is a trend or an aberration is one of several topics that Schlagbaum, Rajiah and other members of the Channel Futures Think Tank will debate in Las Vegas at the Channel Partners Conference & Expo. They will be joined on Thursday, April 11, by Jim Lippie, general manager of cloud computing at Kaseya, on a panel called, “Channel Convergence: Inevitability or Implausibility?” which will be moderated by Marie Rourke, founder and chief channel strategist at WhiteFox Marketing. It’s part of the business strategy conference track sponsored by Nextiva.

In advance of the event, Channel Futures reached out to Rourke, Rajiah, Lippe and other members of the Think Tank for their views on channel convergence, market disruption and customer experiences. Here what a few had to say.

Channel Convergence

In the past few years, many channel experts believed that VARs, MSPs, agents and other channel partners would embrace cloud technology and approach customers in a similar fashion. But it hasn’t happened, in the main. Different business models, sales motions and even customer buying habits have kept these partners – agents and MSPs especially – in different “swim lanes.”

SolarWinds' Dave Sobel

SolarWinds’ Dave Sobel

“The fundamental disconnect between the groups is that most agents don’t want to really deliver anything to anyone, and most MSPs want to deliver everything to everyone,” says Channel Think Tank member Dave Sobel, senior director of MSP evangelism at SolarWinds. In many instances, these different partner types sell to different buyers and pursue different sales objectives, he adds, which explains why these entities have not converged as one or even found ways in which to work together, for the most part.

But that may be changing as more customers put their faith in cloud computing. As they do, they look to a reduced set of partners to cater to their digital services’ needs.

“We believe both [types of partners] can win and work together,” says Think Tank member Ryan Walsh, chief channel officer at Pax8. “The key to leveraging the co-winning comes from understanding the nature of each business model and finding ways, like a good sports team, to leverage each other’s strengths.”

Alert Logic’s Rajiah, for one, believes agents have been unbeatable when it comes to delivering complex solutions for individual end users. Their ability to mix and match service providers, pricing plans and unified solutions is unrivaled. MSPs, on the other hand, have demonstrated an uncanny ability to offload more of the heavier support services that customers have, especially when it comes to infrastructure maintenance and management.

‘In short, both [types of partners] are winning and we need both to effectively service clients’ needs through the channel,” says Rajiah.

Channel Disruption

While few agree if and when different channel companies will come together, most experts believe that channel disruption is inevitable. New business models, technologies and customer priorities will inevitably force channel companies to rethink their fundamental strategies. This has never been truer than in the era of cloud computing.

“In many ways the channel is still digesting the effects of the cloud,” says Lippie. “The more companies move to SaaS apps, the multitude of backup products and the additional security concerns the cloud brings to the ecosystem.”

Rajiah, for one, believes partners can insulate themselves from …

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