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News & Articles

November 15, 2018 |

New Name, Old Purpose for IT Nation Evolve

Other than having more funds and deeper resources at its disposal, the peer group, coaching, and consulting organization formerly known as HTG remains largely unchanged, according to founder Arlin Sorensen (pictured).

Integrating two companies after an acquisition is always a complicated process. When one of those companies is a large software maker with a massive footprint in the SMB channel—like ConnectWise—and the other is a far smaller peer group, coaching, and consulting organization—like HTG—the adjustments involved are bound to be that much greater.

Just ask Arlin Sorensen, who founded HTG 18 years ago, solid it to ConnectWise in January, and now serves as the vice president in charge of the group under its new name, IT Nation Evolve. Arnie Bellini, ConnectWise’s CEO, is the first boss he’s reported to in 41 years.

“I’ve never worked for a company with more than 100 people, and when I did that I was in charge,” says Sorensen, who spoke with ChannelPro at the Q4 2018 meetings of HTG’s face-to-face peer groups, which are taking place this week in Orlando.

Somewhat to his surprise, though, the 10 months since ConnectWise acquired HTG and subsequently rolled it into its IT Nation partner enablement unit have been relatively painless. “It’s really been a lot smoother than we expected,” Sorensen says.

ConnectWise created the IT Nation group, which is led by Sorensen’s son Pete and oversees not only HTG but ConnectWise’s user groups and partner events as well, in August. That’s when it also gave HTG its new name. According to Sorensen, however, ConnectWise hasn’t altered much about HTG beyond that this year.

“They haven’t micromanaged or tried to change our direction,” he says.

Nor, Sorensen continues, have they sought to change the group’s culture. And while MSPs in IT Nation Evolve’s face-to-face peer groups have long been required to use the ConnectWise Manage PSA system, they remain free to run whichever RMM, quoting, and other line-of-business solutions they choose, despite fears to the contrary. Indeed, if anything, members could someday be permitted to pick their PSA solution too.

“We may drop the requirement completely at some point in the future,” Sorensen says.

All of that, he continues, should reassure members who were apprehensive about what comes next during HTG’s Q1 meeting in February, when Sorensen and Bellini promised to protect everything channel pros wish to preserve about the group.

“It was a wait and see attitude, there’s no question about that,” Sorensen says. “They wanted to believe it, but they’ve worked with a lot of big companies over the years and they’ve heard a lot of promises that never came true.”

From Sorensen’s perspective, though, all the ways joining forces with ConnectWise has changed HTG have been beneficial. “The resource investment that the company is making in supporting these partners is really through the roof,” he says.

The ConnectWise Booster program is a prime example of what he has in mind. Introduced by HTG last summer, Booster gives peer group members free access to ConnectWise Manage optimization services. Only a handful of HTG enrollees had completed the process as of the start of this year. Today 130 have, and ConnectWise has 10 consultants at work leading further Booster engagements.

More cash is available now as well to fund member benefits, including the “life coaching” services IT Nation Evolve announced at this week’s quarterly meetings. Delivered by Eagle Consulting, a business leadership coaching organization based in Decatur, Ala., the new offering provides free counseling to channel pros struggling with personal crises. In the past, Sorensen says, HTG could do little more for members in need than advise them to get help. Now it can actually provide that help.

“That’s another one of the outcomes of being part of the ConnectWise family is we’re able to do that now on a broad scale,” he says.

Sorensen plans to scale up the Emerge and Engage peer groups as well. Introduced in 2016 (and recently renamed Evolve 1 and Evolve 2, respectively), those online-only groups for newcomers to managed services have hovered around 150 members ever since. “We think that should be two or three times that big at some point,” says Sorensen, adding that ConnectWise will make investments toward that goal in 2019.

It will not, however, increase the number or size of IT Nation Evolve’s in-person peer groups (now known as Evolve 3), Sorensen insists. “Our members are afraid that we’re going to blow this Evolve thing up to 1,000 companies, and we’re not going to do that,” he says.

Evolve 3 members will see greater consistency in the content IT Nation provides across its various assets next year, though. The still young group is developing a core curriculum that will inform all of its activities going forward. Attendees at IT Nation conferences, like last week’s IT Nation Connect event, will get a taste of that curriculum. Participants in IT Nation Share user groups will consume more and IT Nation Evolve members will receive a significantly bigger helping still.

All of that content will align with the three key themes IT Nation plans to focus on in 2019: developing cybersecurity practices, engaging in M&As, and rolling out as-a-service product offerings.

As ChannelPro has reported previously, ConnectWise has one-year, workshop-like groups for would-be buyers and sellers of managed service businesses on the way. According to Sorensen, a similar set of groups for partners interested in adding security services will arrive next year as well, and groups aimed at creating as-a-service offerings are a possibility too.

“We know that good content targeted at specific kinds of roles or outcomes is something that people want,” he says.

What Evolve members most want though, Sorensen knows, is continued reassurance that the intimacy, independence, and other qualities that defined HTG before it joined ConnectWise continue to endure. Sorensen insists they will.

“Our commitment was that we’re not going to go messing up what we’ve got,” he says. We’ve been true to that.”

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