Last week I had the opportunity to travel to Phoenix, AZ to attend CompTIA's ChannelCon 2014 conference. It was a fantastic event, I got to meet with some great people and hear some interesting, thought-provoking speakers!

As an organization, CompTIA's mission is to support the success of businesses across the full IT Channel, and the annual ChannelCon event is part of that effort each year. Therefore, in the spirit of keeping The Channel strong, I wanted to share some of my takeaways from the event.

The Need for Millennials in the Channel

The need for Millennials in The Channel was a theme that echoed througout the entire conference. It's safe to say that the IT industry is a bit outdated in terms of its recruiting tactics. Recent graduates aren't racing to join MSPs, VARs and ITSPs after graduation and many young professionals aren't aware of the current opportunities that The IT Channel has to offer.

Todd Thibodeaux giving his keynote address at ChannelCon

In order to keep The Channel strong, we need to start thinking about the next generation of IT professionals. Todd Thibodeaux spoke to this need during his keynote address on Tuesday, August 5th. He mentioned that:

In 10 years, 75% of the workforce will be
made up of Millennials.

That's a pretty startling statistic. As an industry, if you're not currently attracting the thought-leaders of the next generation, you're going to have a very difficult time remaining relevant over the next 30 years.

Thibodeaux noted how important it is for The Channel, as an entire industry, to recognize this next generation that's on the horizon and start finding ways to recruit future leaders into the IT industry.

Thibodeaux also mentioned some important characterstics of Millennials:

  1. Disposable products - Millennials are much more likely to buy new products instead of upgrading and fixing them. Think of the way we purchase Smartphones. We'd much rather have the brand new iPhone than upgrade the operating system. 
  2. The brand isn't king - Millenials are much more likely to adopt and try new brands than previous generations.
  3. Software-centric - A product's experience and effectiveness is now on the software, and no longer the hardware. Millennials have grown up coding and with a huge emphasis on software usability and experience.
  4. Technical training is not cool - Millennials would much rather be hands-on learning a new product than sit through traninig. Therefore, we must change the way we train and educate our technicians.
  5. No more geeks - Because technology is so ubiquitous, there are no longer "technology" geeks. These "geeks" are now more segmented (i.e UX geeks, UI geeks, content geeks etc.)

Additionally, 50% of Millennials want to own their business at some point, and over 70% consider themselves Alpha-influencers, in the sense that it's their responsibility to provide critical feedback that helps improve a product. 

Ultimately, Millennials are ambitious (almost to a fault) and they have a whole new set of values that are shaped by the way they've grown up around technology. 

As a Millennial myself, this obviously struck home with me, as I do feel there is a misconception around the IT industry among my generation. Working in The IT Channel for the past 8 months, I've grown passionate about the industry and realize the importance of keeping it strong. I believe the IT industry does need to "re-brand" itself to a degree in order to recruit the next generation.

Millennials are entrepreneurial, ambitious and opportunistic. In order to attract this new generation of workers, IT companies need to demonstrate the immense opportunity within The Channel. IT is no longer a bunch of nerds in a server room tossing around Star Wars jokes (well, maybe it is still that way to a degree...), but there's also the opportunity to work directly with new technologies and help businesses overcome their challenges by leveraging these technologies.

It's more exciting than ever to be in The Channel, but IT companies are not doing a good enough job of broadcasting this opportunity to young professionals. If we can't change the way we market our industry, we're going to miss the boat on the next generation of thought leaders. 

How Data Is Changing

Lisa Bodell, Founder and CEO of futurethink, and author of the book Kill the Company, gave a very interesting keynote in which she challenged the way we operate as businesses and individuals and made us think about how we approach change.  

Lisa Bodell giving her Keynote at ChannelCon

Something interesting she pointed out during her keynote was the way data driven interactions are changing. As data complexity and relationship management increase, so too does the opportunity to gain a competitive advantage. 

Data models used to be descriptive, as in they could describe what happened in the past. Currently, we have enough data and analysis tools available to make our data models predictive, as in they can tell you what will happen. In the future, as data complexity continues to rise, this will turn to prescriptive, in other words, they will tell you should happen.

Ultimately, this is where artificial intelligence comes to life. It will be very interesting to see how this progresses over the years, and how data analysis moves from helping inform decision, to actually making decisions. 

Developing Your MSP Brand

Larry Walsh and Ryan Morris during their PTI discussion

I also had the chance to catch a lunch debate (PTI-style, for any ESPN fans out there) between Larry Walsh, CEO and Chief Analyst of the 2112 Group and Ryan Morris, Principal Consultant, Morris Management Partners.

First off, I loved the style of the discussion, stealing the Pardon the Interruption format...and also the fact that Tony Kornheiser wasn't involved.

Second, Larry and Ryan covered some very important topics that spanned the entire IT Channel. One point that stuck out to me was how MSPs need to start developing a brand around their services. Managed services has evolved to become "an experience" of sorts for the end clients. Larry stated how companies can now envision the solutions they want, and it's the MSPs' job to bring that vision to reality.

Some art from the Managed Services Community Meeting

By bringing this vision to life, you're creating an experience with your brand. It's not just about the technology or the solutions, it's about making their vision come to life. This is a true brand experience, and it's important for MSPs to think about this as they continue to market and grow their businesses.







So I'm going to cut this recap off here, as it's running the risk of become an event summary, rather than a recap. Overall, ChannelCon was a fantastic event and featured education and networking opportunities for all portions of the IT Channel. 

The Channel is strong, and I'm confident it will remain strong in the years to come. However, we need to focus on the changing market trends and think about how to recruit the next generation of IT leaders. 

I'm looking forward to coming back for ChannelCon 2015!