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May 17, 2011 |

New CompTIA Community Encourages Growth for IT Professionals

Community manager Kirk Smallwood and chairman Ken Thoreson discuss the IT Business Growth Professionals Group and how it can benefit IT service providers, including educational training, live events, and a mentoring program. By Elaine Hom

CompTIA’s IT Business Growth Professionals Group is the latest community developed by the Downers Grove, Ill.-based non-profit IT trade association. The IT Business Growth Professionals Group comprises industry experts who offer consulting services and guidance to help IT companies become more efficient and excel in their respective fields.

ChannelPro-SMB sat down with Kirk Smallwood, VP of strategic relationships at CompTIA and the community manager, and Ken Thoreson, president of the Acumen Management Group and chairman of the community. The group, a network of IT professionals ranging from consultants to resellers, offers perks such as live events, training, and a mentoring program. In this Q&A, you’ll learn about the IT Business Growth Professionals Group, who can join, and how the community is designed to benefit partners and SMB IT service providers.

ChannelPro-SMB: Tell us about the IT Business Growth Professionals Group.

Ken Thoreson: It’s a new CompTIA community made up of business consultants and suppliers who work in the vendor community, in distribution, and the solution provider community, providing their expertise. We’re focused on helping the partner community grow. Our tag line is “Delivering expertise and guidance to impact solution provider success.”

ChannelPro-SMB: What are some of the benefits of the community?

Ken Thoreson: From a member perspective, the benefits are huge. Not only do you get the network with other consultants with different types of expertise according to client base, but you also get the learning experience as being part of the professional development side. The community has a variety of initiatives around professional development, as well as understanding and going to the CompTIA website and events and learning what’s happening in the industry. So not only do you [benefit from] the networking, you get an educational side with professional development and an industry education.

Kirk Smallwood: From CompTIA’s side, there are a number of benefits as well. The business group professionals work closely with lots of clients out there, whether vendors or solution providers. They [are] a good source of feedback. It’s another source of feedback for us, besides our own members, and helps us hear about the challenges these guys are facing in the industry and come up with tools that will help them.

A good example of that is a library of channel educational tools with health IT and cloud, SaaS, and UC. The feedback we get is extremely helpful in developing these tools and to figure out what to come out with first, in terms of what’s more important to the clients they’re working with. They’ll continue to be a great source of knowledge for us in terms of how we focus our efforts in educating the channel.

ChannelPro-SMB: Is this the kind of community where people meet online or in person?

Kirk Smallwood: It’s a combination of the two. We meet at key events, like our annual member meeting. We’ll meet again at CompTIA’s Breakaway [August 1 – 4, Washington, DC], and earlier this year, we also had our own summit out in Phoenix. The intention is to get together at least a couple of times a year, face-to-face, but we have regular calls with the group as a whole, or with the committee chairs—we have committees within the group that work on different subjects. The intent is to be constantly communicating.

ChannelPro-SMB: What are some of the channel issues you’re focusing on?

Ken Thoreson: One of the major issues we’re working on now is how to improve the success of the partner community by helping CompTIA look at its educational offerings, evaluate them, and even create new education programs for the solution partner community. We know that solution providers have problems with business planning, hiring people, financial planning, and may have other issues around marketing. We’re looking at being able to provide education and support in those areas.

Kirk Smallwood: The average solution provider has a lot of challenges these days in terms of resources and all of the knowledge they need to have to be successful. They’re generally SMBs. We had seen a lot of good with guys like Ken [Thoreson] and MSP University consulting with those [solution providers]. So we got them together in one place and picked their brains to see if it made sense to pool resources and create best practices to help them [solution providers] their job and get feedback on how we can help them.

Ken Thoreson: One of the major initiatives that we’re working on now is a business assessment tool for the provider. They can go online to assess their organization and operational capabilities—marketing areas, sales areas, delivery areas. As a result of taking that self-assessment, they find out where their challenges lie and where they need additional assessments. Either CompTIA’s education services or one of the members of the IT business growth community can help them.

Kirk Smallwood: We have multiple levels of membership—professional membership is †someone who’s been providing consulting services for over three years; associate membership is someone newer to the business; and then supplier members are people who are supplying services or products to the solution provider community.

ChannelPro-SMB: Does someone have to be a particular company size or generate a certain amount of revenue per year to become part of the IT Business Growth Professionals Group?

Kirk Smallwood: No. There are no restrictions on revenue or size. It’s really about the expertise and experience that they have—that’s what we’re looking at for each member classification. If you are a newer consultant to the community and become an associate member, we actually line those people up with a mentor to help grow their business and professional capabilities.

ChannelPro-SMB: How do you select mentors? †

Kirk Smallwood: Two ways. Mentors are selected on either the challenges that a particular associate has in their own consulting practice, or they are someone in a similar business who can provide a senior/junior kind of relationship with the associate. It depends on what the new associate member is looking for. If that associate member was providing consulting on sales training but needed help on marketing or business, their mentor could be someone focused on marketing.

ChannelPro-SMB: Is there concern on the mentor’s end that they might coach too well and create some of their own competition?

Ken Thoreson: It’s our belief that the market is large, that the groups and number of consultants in the marketplace today can’t meet the demand that’s out there. Newer people need to learn from some of the people who are more experienced and who can help them grow their business and be willing to provide a longer term and better level of service to the solution partner community. There’s nothing worse than people providing consulting services who are inadequate and that can hurt the profession in general.

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