When the Autotask Community Live conference kicks off April 18 in Miami, I plan to arrive with plenty of questions. No doubt, Autotask and the broader PSA (professional services automation) market are evolving. New competitors. New strategies. New opportunities? Here are five questions and story angles I plan to pursue at the conference.

1. MSPs Meet Corporate IT?: Autotask promotes Taskfire as a tool that connects the dots between service providers and corporate IT. But is Taskfire catching on? Who are the adopters and why? And ultimately, can the managed services market grow by gaining deeper hooks into corporate IT?

2. New Competition?: Let me set the stage. The traditional PSA market (ConnectWise, Autotask, Tigerpaw) is evolving fast. On the one hand, those rivals are moving into new markets -- pushing beyond traditional PSA and competing in different market segments.

But on the other hand, larger SaaS-centric software companies seem to be preparing PSA strategies. Two prime examples:
Shifting gears back to the Autotask Community Live conference, I'll be sure to ask the Autotask team if they anticipate newer, larger rivals potentially entering the PSA SaaS market and specifically serving the channel.

3. Pitching Products: It's been a few weeks since Autotask acquired VARStreet -- an online platform that allows solutions providers to source products from distributors. So, how does Autotask plan to promote Autotask Go and Autotask Pro to VARStreet users? And how will Autotask educate existing PSA partners about VARStreet? Answers will surely emerge at the conference.

4. Moving Beyond the Channel?: I've got to be brutally honest. I sometimes wonder if PSA and RMM software providers plan to push outside the IT channel to find new, broader customer bases. Here's why:
  • On the one hand, plenty of MSP-centric software companies have enjoyed strong growth in recent years. VARs and MSPs are succeeding with recurring revenue models. No doubt, the need for remote management and automation tools within the channel continues to grow.
  • But on the other hand the vast majority of MSP software industry players generate $30 million or less in annual revenues. I suspect some of the best-known names generate $20 million or less. Some companies have outside investors and venture capitalists who will eventually want an exit strategy -- or faster, exponential growth that delivers $100 million or more in annual revenues.
With those thoughts in mind, I often wonder if MSP software providers will diversify into new, alternative markets. Already, we're seeing some RMM providers push into corporate IT. On the flip side, I wonder if we'll see the PSA providers offer automation for different types of services businesses (electricians, plumbers, transportation companies, etc.).

5. MSPs as Independent Software Vendors?: Before I head to Autotask Community Live, I have to finish up my work here at the NetSuite SuiteCloud conference in San Francisco. The big theme here involves channel partners that have application-centric development expertise.

It sounds like NetSuite's most profitable channel partners are writing custom code or offering specialized configurations on top of NetSuite's SaaS platform. A similar trend is popping up in the managed services market, where so-called managed services middleware developers (companies like MSPintegrations and Directive Technology Integrators are creating integrations to Autotask, ConnectWise and other platforms.

At the end of the day, MSPs have to look in the mirror and ask: What is your core business asset and expertise? If the answer is basic, pro-active remote monitoring I think you're in deep trouble.

On the flip side, I sense that MSPs that deliver some custom code are in good shape. As my first editor told me: Software never dies. Write some custom code that customers like, and you can lock them into your services for life.

I'll be hunting for software- and application-centric MSPs at Autotask Community Live.

What Are Your Questions?

What key trends or issues do you expect to pop up at Autotask Community Live? What type of topics should MSPmentor explore at the conference? Let me know (joe [at] NineLivesMediaInc.com) and I'll pursue the answers at the conference.

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