A channel ecosystem, in my opinion, is simply a gathering place for partners, vendors, suppliers, and buyers to do business. Your ecosystem’s design is only limited by your imagination. The key is to think about everything its members will need to connect, collaborate, and do business, and then pack it in. In essence, you’re constructing a one-stop shop. The more seamlessly the ecosystem’s moving parts interact, the more effective it is.

What is important to keep in mind when you build any ecosystem is that every player in the ecosystem must see value for themselves and get benefits. No one should be left behind so the attitude of “when the tide raises all ships rises” is a good way of thinking.

The term ecosystem implies that all of the components must work together to achieve a perfect balance that is also transparent and objective. The most significant disadvantage for third-party participants in a vendor-centric ecosystem is that all roads lead back to the same vendor (they control the roads and tolls). Open ecosystems that allow multiple vendors to interact and compete on an equal playing field will benefit their participants more.

Building an ecosystem is similar to building a cybersecurity posture – it’s all about people, process and tools. It can be difficult to build, let alone gain adoption, for any ecosystem. Many vendors are currently developing their partner ecosystems and communities, with varying degrees of success (just putting lipstick on a pig and calling it something different will not work). As with anything that pushes the boundaries, there will be some hits and misses. Hopefully as your journey progresses, it should become clearer what works and what doesn’t.

One of the most difficult challenges for any ecosystem builder is determining how to “on-ramp”, compensate and support each participant in the ecosystem. Identifying the participants and the value each brings can be difficult. Developing a scoring system based on the amount of value each participant brings to the table appears to be one method, but monitoring and managing these relationships and partnerships with the appropriate support and rewards is an ongoing challenge. The diversity and range of partners requires deep and creative thinking to engage and motivate. However, without the proper leadership and resources, success is less likely.

We started our Cybersecurity Defense Ecosystem (CDE) building journey by surveying and listening to a very wide range of vendors, channel partners, experts and related suppliers. We needed to better understand the goals, needs, capabilities, expectations and challenges of all the potential contributors. It took a lot of time to process before we realized how we could do it. Some days, the task seemed far too overwhelming, but we decided to follow the same advice we always give to others: “How do you “eat” an elephant? – one bite at a time!”

We were finally ready to start after that deep dive by gathering and evaluating the various providers, platforms, and solutions to build the ecosystem’s infrastructure. We spent about eight months evaluating the tools and learned a lot.

Before creating any ecosystem, it is necessary to first understand WHY this ecosystem is important to your target audience and the market. Do not make the rookie mistake of believing that the ecosystem is simply where people come to do business with you. Think bigger! On many levels, this is a place for everyone in the ecosystem to learn and grow business with you and each other.  The definition of “business” extends far beyond transactions.

We chose to work on a cybersecurity ecosystem because there is a massive need in the channel to build a bigger, better, smarter, and more robust cybersecurity business practice. We believe that cyberwar is one of the most serious threats to the economy and humans. As more pressures, costs, and complexities are placed on businesses and humans, the fear of cyber attacks are constantly eroding our way of life.

Many people today are suffering from “password rage” because we all have so many and have to do so much more to access everything. Our systems, data, and devices are under constant attack. When one is hacked, all of their contacts are vulnerable to attack. The majority of the older generation is simply unable to keep up with the rate of digitization. I could go on, but it’s quite extraordinary how many hoops we’re all jumping through and how much private information we’re all giving up to prove our own identities in order to access our accounts and devices. We live in a world where we have to prove our identity every day, and I fear this is just the beginning.

That sums up “our” why! 

It’s anecdotal, but I believe the world requires about 100,000 MSSPs to fight back, but we only have about 10,000 today. Others may see things differently, and some believe we have far fewer than 10,000. Having said that, we all agree that we lack a critical mass of qualified MSSPs, SOCs, and professional cybersecurity experts to address the issue. According to estimates, the cybersecurity industry needs to fill approximately 2.5 million jobs. it’s clear that we’re still a long way from the finish line.

One more thing to keep in mind as you digest this ecosystem is to start with a solid cybersecurity framework. It’s about balancing people, process and technology in a mission to identify, protect, detect, respond and recover (we are fond of Sounil Yu’s perspective on cybersecurity and I would encourage you to read his book “Digital Defense Matrix” – It makes it so much easier to navigate the cybersecurity landscape).

If there was one tagline to sum up the mission of cybersecurity channel partners it may be “Defend Today, Protect Tomorrow”.

Here we go…

Phase 1 of our journey: Collecting and evaluating platforms, tools and offerings for the ecosystem’s operation.

  1. We first needed a marketplace platform for showcasing the various solutions and services available to ecosystem members. We chose SPIISEE because their framework was comprehensive enough to address the depth and breadth of what was required today and in the future. We began with a simple showcase of the ecosystem’s vendors and suppliers, where each could present their solution and value and allow any member to engage with them to learn and become a partner. There is a specific marketplace roadmap that we will continue to follow in order to expand on everything required to streamline all aspects of doing business between partners, buyers and suppliers. We will continue to add functionality and remove friction in doing business. Channel partners can now sign up for the platform to test it out for themselves. The beta trials will continue until February 16, 2023 when it will go live. To get started, join the IOTSSA community or attend one of their upcoming cybersecurity conferences.
  2. Next, we needed to evaluate and choose the best cybersecurity vendors and solutions that can deliver on their promises to solve problems. This is extremely complicated because there are currently over 4,000 vendors on the market. Our news media division, e-channelnews, is constantly interviewing and featuring hundreds of vendors to discover the companies with the right stuff. Then, we enlist the assistance of our community of CISOs and cybersecurity experts to evaluate the products. The decision to include a product in CDE is much easier when it’s already known to the experts. New products take a lot more time to evaluate but it’s a worthy exercise as you never know who will have the next best thing. We wouldn’t know what products to include in the ecosystem without this vetting process and support. Once the product has been approved, we contact the vendor to invite them to join the ecosystem. If they agree, the process of integrating them into the marketplace platform begins. Eventually, we will have a comprehensive selection of products and services that channel partner members can use with confidence to provide the best cybersecurity managed services possible. We are bringing a big list down to a short list of the best of the best solutions. Once the product is approved in the marketplace, the decision shifts to the MSPs and MSSPs who provide feedback on their user experience. (NOTE: Several vendors are developing a suite of applications to provide a complete solution. We will feature these vendors in a separate category as some members may decide to select one on which to build their practice – what is in these suites is beyond our control)
  3. Bringing all stakeholders together to meet in person, exchange ideas, learn, and collaborate is important. As such, we acquired the IOTSSA cybersecurity conferences for this purpose and will increase the number of events to facilitate more meetings. Of course, we will showcase much more than the ecosystem at the conferences. You can get an idea of exactly what content we deliver by reviewing our most recent agenda. We will also be partnering with other conferences to include everyone. 
  4. We then added a tool that we believe is critical to business development: a marketing research tool that provides real-time insights into what channel partners and their end-users are doing and thinking. We chose the Quantilope platform because it enables us to survey our channel community using a professional marketing research process, and it also enables any member of the ecosystem to do the same with their customers. Everyone understands how important it is to obtain this business intelligence data in order to know what to present to the buyers.
  5. Following that, based on the marketing research data, we will create the appropriate content for members to send to their audience. Many vendors already have good content, but we must remove the brand marketing and sales pitches to make it more agnostic and relevant to the prospect. This is one of the services we provide as we develop a library of relevant and current content to engage, generate awareness, and generate sales leads. Savvy marketing people will appreciate the need for this.
  6. The next step is to provide members with a marketing automation platform. We explored many. We discovered that the majority of companies already use a platform. As such, there’s really no need to change unless it’s just not working. If necessary, we can provide recommendations. We’re looking into a marketing automation platform that will allow us to deliver video content in real time so that members can instantly rebrand and “pair” the livestream with their audience. More to come on this topic.
  7. Using the power of collaboration with a peer-group, we assist members in helping themselves. A peer-group is one of the most important activities that any business owner can do to help their company grow. We use the Channel Partner Alliance’s Mastermind format. It’s outstanding, and it comes with a powerful platform that allows peer-group members to communicate with one another, schedule meetings, and exchange content 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It also has some powerful business-building tools, as well as an endless number of masterclasses and coaches to assist them in every aspect of business development. Peer groups can meet virtually anytime or in-person at any of the IOTSSA or ChannelNEXT conferences.
  8. With the help of a leading sales expert, author and his team, we developed an exclusive sales training course for cybersecurity sales reps called “Selling Risks.” It’s only 6 hours long, but it will significantly help its “students” up their sales game in cyber. These courses are available virtually or in person at any IOTSSA or ChannelNEXT event. I strongly recommend every sales rep take this course, regardless of your skill level. Just leveraging this playbook can increase your sales, commissions and help you close faster.
  9. Following that, we will provide a section in the marketplace where vendors and independent trainers can offer a variety of educational courses and certifications to anyone looking to improve their skills in cybersecurity. Students will not be able to take the actual course on this platform as they will be directed to the providers, but members will be able to receive special discounts and other benefits that we are negotiating. We also intend to use this platform to educate more people so that they can be hired as qualified cybersecurity professionals.
  10. Next, we are collaborating with many vendors and suppliers to find ways to help subsidize members’ costs through special discounts, incentives, rebates, and MDF. This is ongoing as we strive to assist our channel partner members in maximizing the value of the ecosystem and reduce their costs.

Only after this initial hard work did we feel we were ready to go ahead with the launch phase one of CDE. We already have four additional membership benefits in the works, with more to come throughout 2023. The mission is to create the most comprehensive ecosystem possible, allowing our members to build and scale businesses in unprecedented ways.

So far, the feedback we have received has been a lot more positive than we expected. Seems like we were so busy building, we did not truly appreciate just how far we have come. Since the launch, many more have joined the mission to add even more value. Seems like building it and they will come is an experience that we have living. We thank and welcome everyone who has joined us! We are wide open to welcoming more to join us on our journey and learn from our successes and failures.

CDE is necessary for the channel and we are doing our small part. We do not own or develop any of the platforms or cybersecurity solutions in the ecosystem. We are merely the ecosystem’s architect and evangelist or as some have started to call us “the glue” of the ecosystem. The real heroes are the ecosystem’s platform providers, vendors, channel partners, and other suppliers who work tirelessly to combat cyberattacks 24 hours a day, 365 days a year!

We launched phase one of our cybersecurity channel partner ecosystem on October 26, 2022, at the recent IOTSSA Cybersecurity Conference.

If you are an MSP, MSSP or SOC, you can join today to begin receiving early membership benefits and the 23-page membership benefits guide for FREE.  Once you have joined, you will receive updates automatically. Come meet everyone and explore everything in-person in Phoenix AZ on Feb 16-17! Agenda to be published soon, but you can reserve your seat now!

The journey continues…Will soon launch a new CDE website and drop more details on phase 2.