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IT Nation 2017: ConnectWise sets sights on a 'connected ecosystem'

At its annual partner conference, PSA software vendor ConnectWise said it aims to build out its ecosystem of integrated vendors and highlighted its recently announced alliance with Cisco.

ORLANDO -- ConnectWise has revealed a vision for a broad and connected ecosystem of third-party technology vendors that will plug into its PSA software.

At its IT Nation 2017 conference this week, the professional services automation (PSA) software provider discussed its push to bring a seemingly infinite variety of vendor integrations to ConnectWise partners through an upcoming Developer Kit. ConnectWise also highlighted its recent partnership with Cisco to make it easier for partners to use several Cisco technologies within its PSA software. ConnectWise currently integrates with about 200 vendors.

"The whole message [of IT Nation 2017] is really that of choices in the ecosystem, and then, 'Let's do more of that. Let's connect the entire ecosystem,'" said Arnie Bellini, co-founder and CEO of ConnectWise.

Cisco integration

At last week's Cisco Partner Summit, ConnectWise unveiled the pilot program for ConnectWise Unite, a new offering that lets Cisco partners use Cisco Spark, Meraki, Umbrella and Stealthwatch through the ConnectWise management console. In addition to Amazon Web Services, ConnectWise previously integrated with Microsoft Office 365 and Azure through its CloudConsole product, which Bellini said will be merged with Unite in the first quarter of 2018.

Cisco technologies available under Unite will eventually expand, according to Nirav Sheth, vice president of solutions, architectures and engineering for the global partner organization at Cisco. "We definitely have some cloud-managed assets that we are also exploring to continue to evolve and have more offers enabled by the Unite platform," he said.

Additionally, ConnectWise Unite will expand with other vendors, including Google, which Bellini said "is a perfect additional integration that we think will help drive more value for Cisco." Google and Cisco announced a partnership around hybrid cloud at the Cisco Partner Summit.

The Cisco-ConnectWise partnership serves a means for Cisco to grow its market share in the small and medium-sized business (SMB) space, Sheth said, noting that Cisco is trying to change the perception that it is a vendor focused solely on the enterprise segment. This means working more closely with ConnectWise partners such as managed services providers (MSPs) that generally target SMB customers.

Cisco and ConnectWise plan to roll out MSP University, an enablement program for Cisco value-added resellers to expand into managed services. "We have committed to working with Cisco to create an amazing university that helps get Cisco partners started down the path of managed services," Bellini said. He added that all ConnectWise partners will have access to MSP University as well.

Integrations ahead: The Developer Kit

ConnectWise has several releases on the integration front slated for 2018, the company revealed. Among these is the Developer Kit, a tool for development teams to connect products to the ConnectWise platform. The Developer Kit has a tentative launch date for the second quarter of 2018.

"The idea on the ConnectWise Developer Kit is … [to] make every solution available to our partners and ... put it in one pane of glass ... so they can manage it and monitor it and bill it," Bellini said.

Bellini noted the company has put together a $10 million fund to support the Developer Kit initiative. Using the fund, which is provided through ConnectWise Capital, ConnectWise will act as an "angel investor," investing in ideas that further connect the ecosystem, Bellini said. ConnectWise is looking to increase that fund to $25 million, he said.

Another unique feature of the Devloper Kit is that it allows channel partners to build their own integrations and customize their own experience in the ConnectWise platform without the need of development expertise. "If you want to develop with SDKs and APIs, we still have that, but we are making it easier," said Craig Fulton, chief product officer at ConnectWise.

Gavin Gamber, vice president of channel sales and alliances, said ecosystem expansion has become a major initiative for ConnectWise leadership, driven by partner demand. Partners "are our best gauges on where we should be heading. ... That's how a lot of these integration partners pop up."

He added that there are virtually no limits on how large the ConnectWise ecosystem could grow. "The ecosystem is just getting bigger and bigger and bigger," he said. With a large ecosystem of integrated partners to balance, he said there are "certainly sensitivities" pertaining to ConnectWise's competing vendor partners, but "it all boils down to who has got the best solutions for the partner and fits their needs the best at a price that they like and is affordable."

ConnectWise software enhancements

At the IT Nation 2017 keynote presentation, ConnectWise showcased upcoming features of the ConnectWise suite, often to the applause of conference attendees.

ConnectWise Automate, the company's automating tool, is being moved to the web and more tightly integrated with ConnectWise Manage. New web-based functions will include a computer management function and network map feature, slated for availability in the first quarter of 2018.

ConnectWise Automate "has been a tool you need to install on a Windows machine. Now we're taking it to the web so you can now use it from any browser," Fulton said.

Adding to remote control functionality, ConnectWise Perspective will provide a smartphone video connection between customers and technicians, available in the second quarter of 2018. Using the feature, customers can send a live video feed from their smartphones to technicians, creating an additional layer to a partner's service delivery capabilities. Perspective will contain features for auto-scanning barcodes, recording session time and adding workstation information into tickets, ConnectWise said.

After Fulton demonstrated Perspective onstage during his IT Nation 2017 keynote presentation, he said he was surprised by the audience response to the upcoming feature. "I wasn't sure how that was going to go, but man, that was the biggest applause. A lot of people approached me and said ... 'Now I can see what [customers] are seeing.'"

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