It can seem on the face of it that industry events are expensive to go to, especially if you have to fly to get there, add the hotel costs and the event themselves are normally chargeable, it can all add up. Sometimes the costs can run into the thousands, particularly if you take other members of your team with you. The key to an industry event is finding the greater value for your company. There may be things at the event that you wouldn’t know about otherwise but have potential to bring a new source of revenue to your company, or a method of doing something that would increase productivity tenfold!
This was my second year visiting Continuum’s Navigate MSP conference in the states. This year it was held in Continuum’s home city of Boston. Last year, Navigate 2017 was held in Las Vegas and was a real eye opener to me and the world of managed IT security, with Continuum announcing their first SOC (security operations centre) offering. The three-day event exceeded my expectations in terms of the quality of the speakers and the vendors present and I left Las Vegas feeling excited about where the managed service provider (MSP) industry was going.
This was one of the main reasons that I decided to attend Continuum’s Navigate 2018 event this year, and it didn’t disappoint. For one, I was speaking about “How a Crisp* Packet Changed My Life and My Business” (*potato chips for my American friends) which is always good as I’m passionate about helping businesses to be the best they can be. I was also invited onto a sales leadership panel session representing the UK and the smaller MSP with sales titans such as Bob Kocis, Peter Melby and Jeff Dotzler, all hosted by the talented Frank Bauer.
The whole event was run brilliantly, from the food to the conference facilities to the types of vendors that were exhibiting. They were all first class, especially the keynote speakers. Barbara Corcoran from ABC’s Shark Tank (if you are from the UK, she’s like a richer, funnier Deborah Meaden from Dragon’s Den) was so humble and engaging when telling her story that you really felt that you knew her and understood her passion, where she had come from and what made her tick.
The final keynote of the three days was on a different level to the rest. Ed Davis, the former police commissioner of the Boston Police Department, was in charge of the department when the Boston Marathon bombings took place in 2013. You could have heard a pin drop as Ed retold the story of his movements on that fateful day. If there was one takeaway message from his keynote speech, it was to plan, plan, and plan again… and then test the plan! Due to the preparation and planning that he and the Boston Police had done prior to the Marathon bombings, it meant that not only were there fewer casualties, but the assailants were captured in just a matter of days.
"Always be prepared, plan, and then test the plan."
- Ed Davis, Former Boston Police Commissioner
Now you might be thinking, “what has this got to do with the IT industry? How can it be of help to my business or my customer?” The takeaway for me was that we should be planning, for our own companies and our customers, for every eventuality. We all know about the importance of having a business plan, but do we have a business continuity plan? Does it cover all risks? If so, have you tested it? If not, why not? Isn’t it best to test that it works today before you need it, just in case it doesn’t work? With GDPR live in Europe now, do you have a data breach plan? What about an incident response plan? If you don’t have these plans and you have a high-risk data breach how are you going to respond to the ICO within the mandatory 72 hours? Would you be able to?
For the rest of Navigate 2018, you couldn’t get away with not hearing about cyber security. Virtually every talk or vendor was about it in some way. It was definitely the hottest topic and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Not a day goes by without hearing about another data breach or hack that has affected another company—large and small—so it’s little wonder that Continuum have recently added SIEM (security information and event management) tools to bolster their existing SOC offering with the acquisition of CARVIR, a leading player in MSP security space. Added to their existing offering, this is aimed at helping MSPs bring enterprise-levels of security to their customers, something that would have been too cost prohibitive for most MSPs to previously do themselves. As I have said, the biggest discussions were based around IT security, as small companies are no longer exempt from attacks. In fact, they are targeted more than large companies due to their lack of understanding/ignorance and their “it will never happen to us” approach that is putting them more at risk.
When I go to IT conferences, I’m always surprised that I can nearly always guarantee that I find a new product that will help me solve a problem that my customers might be experiencing, or one to make their or ATG’s life easier or run smoother. This year’s event was no exception. I did see one product that blew me away. It was a product that provided dark web monitoring. For those of you that don’t know, the dark web is a part of the internet that isn't indexed by search engines. You've no doubt heard talk of the “dark web” as a hotbed of criminal activity—and to be honest, it is! It’s where most of your breached data, including user names, passwords, credit card numbers, addresses, emails, etc. end up for sale to undesirables. With the product I found at the event, you enter your domain name and the company scans the dark web proactively to find if any of your details are there for sale. I entered a few domain names that I know and to my surprise, there had been breaches. I could even see the user names and passwords! Now, there is nothing that you can do about the information that is already out on the dark web as it’s already gone, but you can start to take your IT security more seriously. Don’t have the same password for multiple sites, change your password regularly, enable two factor authentication, and implement a security standard like cyber essentials. Cyber security training is also imperative your staff are your first and last line of defence.
If you get a chance to visit any IT industry conference I would definitely recommend attending, especially to those that are run by the MSP big players such as Continuum. What you can learn is just staggering. I was so surprised my first time just how friendly and helpful the other attendees were. They were only too happy give you information and not only during the conference, but around the hotel and bar afterwards, the conversations continue to happen. If that doesn’t whet your appetite, it’s worth going if only for the fact to get you out of the business for a few days so you can work on the business as opposed to in it. Never mind the quality of speakers, vendors and lastly, sheer amount of food!
Go on, open your mind. You won’t regret it.
By Carlos Borges
By Ray Vrabel