I'll avoid the temptation to call it a managed services war or a battle. But there is a clear difference of opinion between the MSPAlliance and MSP Partners regarding managed services accreditation. And the story (actually non-story, I believe) reached new heights a few hours ago. Pull up a chair and take a seat. This is a long blog entry.

The central debate: MSP Partners on March 31 announced plans to launch a managed services accreditation. On April 15, the MSPAlliance board and committee members fired back with an open letter to its MSP members about the state of accreditation. The open letter alleged that nearly 1,000 MSPAlliance members are concerned about the MSP Partners accreditation -- though the tactfully written letter did not mention MSP Partners by name.

Even stranger: The letter was posted anonymously to the MSPAlliance Web site, and no MSPAlliance board members actually signed the letter.

Before I share more, here are two important points:
  • If you'd like to post a comment to this blog entry, please read this entire blog post. There's a lot of back story here. Back up your claims/beliefs with facts or informed opinions, please, rather than anonymous flames.
  • At the bottom of this article you'll find a few disclosures explaining when and where MSPmentor works with the organizations mentioned in this article. That way, you can draw your own conclusions about our editorial coverage, potential biases, and our commitment to blogging far more often than we should.
Now, onto the central themes of this blog post:
  • Why are nearly 1,000 MSPAlliance members allegedly upset about the MSP Partners accreditation?
  • Do I really think all those members are upset?

MSPAlliance's Early Work

Let's start at the beginning. The MSPAlliance was founded [correction, co-founded] by President Charles Weaver. In 2004, the alliance launched an accreditation for managed service providers. The current MSPAlliance accreditation, which includes on-site audits and in-depth company reviews, generally receives high marks from many of the MSPs I've interviewed.

To be clear, the MSPAlliance accreditation is not designed for the masses. To the best of my knowledge, it serves only those MSPs that are able to clear high hurdles and really prove their worth in the managed services market.

Also, the MSPAlliance has every right to protect its hard work developing MSPAlliance Accreditation.

MSP Partners: The New Kid On the Block

Still, I defend MSP Partners' right to introduce its own accreditation, assuming it doesn't infringe on any work done by MSPAlliance.

MSP Partners was founded by Cisco, Intel, Ingram Micro, Level Platforms and Microsoft, and "further sponsored by many other worldwide IT Leaders," according to the vendor-driven association's web site.

A few critics allege that MSP Partners is nothing more than an operating arm of Level Platforms. Generally speaking, I disagree with that assertion. Why? At its core, I think MSP Partners exists to grow the managed services industry. I believe MSP Partners serves all members, not just Level Platforms.

With that goal in mind, MSP Partners on March 31 announced plans for a Managed Services Accreditation Exam. The MSP Partners exam is being developed by CompTIA (the Computing Technology Industry Association) and IPED (the Institute for Partner Education and Development, owned by Everything Channel, publisher of CRN).

The 'Controversy' Begins

As soon as MSP Partners announced its accreditation plans on March 31, it was clear to me that the MSPAlliance would take a close look at the MSP Partners announcement.

In an April 1 blog entry, I told readers:
"The MSPAlliance (MSPA) has an established, intensive accreditation program for its 8,000 or so association members. And generally speaking, the MSPA fiercely protects its work in the managed services market."
In that same April 1 blog entry, I also wrote:
"Legally, has MSP Partners done anything wrong? I think not. Is there room for multiple managed services accreditations in the market? I think so. But remember: I’m just a blogger."
Again, I'm just a blogger. I stand by my opinion that there's room in the market for two (or more) managed services accreditations.

The Chatter Continues

By about April 9, I was hearing rumors that the MSPAlliance was taking a close look at the MSP Partners accreditation efforts. And I was told that at least two MSPAlliance board members -- Jim Swoyer and Stephen Moisoff -- were available to speak with me about the MSPAlliance's alleged member concerns.

I reached out to Swoyer and Moisoff over email, and ultimately I dialed Swoyer. He explained how the MSPAlliance offered a comprehensive accreditation that was designed by MSPs for MSPs.

And Swoyer expressed concern that a vendor-driven effort (the MSP Partners offering) involving an online test could potentially allow sub-standard MSPs to earn accreditation (from MSP Partners).

MSP Partners Replies

I asked MSP Partners' Jim Hamilton for his reply to Swoyer's concerns. Hamilton stated, among other things:
"The MSP Partners accreditation has been developed by two of the recognized leaders in IT services provider research and education -  CompTIA and Everything Channel's Institute for Partner Education and Development (IPED).
The MSP Partners accreditation exam has been developed and is powered by CompTIA. CompTIA is a worldwide leader in the development of IT certifications and accreditations with tens of thousands of A+ certifications.  They continue to lead in this area with the new Security Trustmark now being widely adopted by solution providers.  As an independent industry association with an established track record of accreditation exam development, they were MSP Partners logical choice to develop and implement this element of the program.  In developing the accreditation they worked extensively with a panel of leading MSPs."
End of story, right? Yes... until a few hours ago.

An Open Letter -- Signed By No One

I didn't really plan to write this blog. There wasn't a smoking gun or a Deep Throat who could definitely say there was a story here. A debate between the MSPAlliance's Swoyer and MSP Partners' Hamilton wasn't really big news.

That all changed a few hours ago, when the MSPAlliance board on April 15 published an open letter to its members. In the letter, the MSPAlliance board alleges that it:
"has received nearly a thousand letters and emails from MSPs around the world regarding your concern that any vendor, individually or part of a larger group of vendors, would attempt to govern or accredit MSPs."
My reaction? If MSPAlliance members are concerned, the MSPAlliance board certainly has a right to address those concerns.

But then I started thinking to myself: If so many MSPAlliance members are up in arms:
  • How come none of the MSPAlliance board members actually signed the open letter?
  • How come the letter was posted anonymously to the MSPAlliance Web site? Yes, anonymously.
It's as if the MSPAlliance letter is written by everyone -- but no one.

If there's a controversy here, Weaver and the MSPAlliance board need to stand front and center, putting their names on paper and clearly stating where the controversy exists -- if at all.

Or at least link the letter to the MSPAlliance board of advisors and accreditation/standards commitee page, so that casual readers can understand who within the MSPAlliance decided to publish the letter.

Weaver and the MSPAlliance have done a lot of good for the managed services industry, launching programs that assist MSPs with legal guidance, health care and other business needs. But sometimes, the MSPAlliance leadership disappears behind sweeping statements attributed to "the board" without anybody from the alliance stepping front and center.

Disclosures

At the top of this blog entry, I promised to disclose MSPmentor's relationships with the various parties mentioned in this blog post. So here we go...

1. CompTIA: MSPmentor's parent company, Nine Lives Media Inc., works with CompTIA on various custom media projects, including content development for the Breakaway conference. And yes, I'm a co-founder of Nine Lives Media Inc, which means I work on custom projects for CompTIA.

2. IPED/Everything Channel/CRN: We have no formal relationship with IPED and Everything Channel, though we do link out to their content from time to time when relevant. And more than a decade ago, I worked for Everything Channel's former parent, the former CMP Media.

3. Level Platforms: The software company sponsors MSPmentor.

4. MSPAlliance: MSPmentor and MSPAlliance have no formal relationship. We cover MSPAlliance-related news. The MSPAlliance alleged in early 2008 that MSPmentor's original tagline infringed on an MSPAlliance trademark. MSPmentor disagreed with the allegation but we agreed to change our tagline. More recently, Charles Weaver and I have maintained a casual ongoing dialog about MSPAlliance news.

5. MSP Partners: MSPmentor is an MSP Partners media sponsor. Basically, we drive traffic to each others' sites. MSP Partners' Jim Hamilton is a guest blogger on MSPmentor. I once golfed -- badly -- with Hamilton.

Good Night, Everybody

So, who is MSPmentor really in bed with on accreditation? Actually, it's nearly 3:30 a.m. east coast time and I'm in bed with my wife. But pathetically, I'm blogging about a non-story. My larger point: When it comes to the editorial I write, I'm in bed with nobody. I write based on informed reporting and nearly 20 years of experience covering the IT market.

And for this particular blog, we have a case of the MSPAlliance alleging nearly 1,000 members are concerned about the MSP Partners accreditation. But there's no buzz about the alleged controversy anywhere on the web. Not on Twitter. Not on Facebook. Not in MSP-oriented forums. Not on MSPmentor's wide-open comment section. Nowhere ... Except the anonymously posted letter on the MSPAlliance web site. (If I'm wrong, please post comments with links...)

That doesn't add up.

Last week, one source close to the MSPAlliance asked me for my opinion on accreditation. He was basically asking me if I stood with the MSPAlliance or with MSP Partners.

My answer? I stand with the managed service providers -- the audience that will ultimately decide which accreditations fit them best. May the best MSP accreditation(s) thrive for years to come. And may fair competition -- even between associations -- rule the MSP market.

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