2014 Technology Preview

Want to know what’s on tap for next year? Our panel of experts looks ahead and answers six of the SMB technology world’s most pressing questions. By Rich Freeman

Each December ChannelPro-SMB asks a panel of industry insiders a series of open-ended questions on what the New Year holds in store for markets like managed services and mobility. We were all set to do it again, too, when a better idea occurred to us. This time, why not ask the questions our readers really want answers to for a change?

So rather than the usual forecasts in the same old fields, we herewith present expert predictions on six issues that channel pros either care about or should care about deeply.

What will consolidation in the RMM market mean for me?
Mergers and buyouts were all the rage this year in the remote monitoring and management (RMM) space, with Lausanne, Switzerland-based Kaseya International Ltd. and Ottawa, Ontario-based Level Platforms Inc. and N-able Technologies Inc. all getting snapped up by other software makers or private equity firms.

It will be a while before managed service providers start feeling the effects of those transactions, according to Larry Walsh, president and CEO of The 2112 Group, a channel advisory firm in Port Washington, N.Y. "It takes a good 12 to 18 months for an acquisition or buyout to have any real meaningful impact," he says. By this time next year, though, MSPs should be reevaluating their RMM commitments.

"[They] should be looking at what the aspirations of these companies are, what their roadmaps are, and how that maps to their business structure and their needs in servicing their customers," Walsh says. That's an exercise MSPs should perform regularly anyway, he notes, but repeating it in 2014 makes especially good sense.

As for market conditions generally next year, Walsh sees blue skies ahead. "I'm quite bullish on managed services," he says. "The market will continue to expand, [but] as they say about cars, mileage may vary." MSPs with sharp sales, communication, and management abilities are in for significant growth, Walsh predicts. Providers without those skills are in for trouble.

What will be the most important trends in cloud computing?
Some of that trouble may come from a surprising source too, according to Stanton Jones, an adviser/analyst at Stamford, Conn.-based Information Services Group Inc. In the very near future, the biggest competitor some MSPs face may no longer be another MSP. It could be Skynet.

That's the fictional artificial intelligence platform from Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator movies. The real-world equivalents for managed service providers are systems from companies like New York-based IPsoft Inc. that can perform a growing range of network management tasks without operator assistance. "There are a handful of providers out there that are building autonomous [IT management] platforms," Jones says. "[They're] learning faster than humans are learning."

Laugh if you like, but the vendors behind those systems are forging alliances with big-time outsourcers like Infosys Ltd. and Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp. to deliver affordable, automated managed services on a mass basis via the cloud. "That's going to have a really huge impact on the broader outsourcing market," Jones says, beginning with larger businesses and then trickling down to SMBs.

Jones' second big cloud story for next year concerns what some channel pros consider a more immediate threat: the rise of Microsoft Office 365 and other cloud-based collaboration suites. Already growing fast, such products will reach escape velocity in 2014, Jones believes. "[That] represents a massive opportunity for system integrators of all sizes," he adds, because cloud vendors like Microsoft have no intention of providing deployment and customization services themselves. Though that work doesn't pay high margins, Jones concedes, it opens the door to new customer relationships and a wide array of service opportunities.

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