This is the last FranklyIT episode for 2018. We’ll take a short break around the holidays and be back in your earbuds with a fresh episode on Jan 10, 2019.

Today I’m chatting with Luis Alvarez of Alvarez Technology Group, a California-based MSP that’s built themselves a niche in IoT (Internet of Things) services for agricultural companies. We talk about how Luis’s company got into that niche, challenges they had to overcome in building out their IoT services, and how they’ve leveraged partnerships with IoT sensor vendors to help their MSP—and their clients—grow.

But first, we turn to Richard Tubb and Karl Palachuk for a look at What’s Going On in the world through an MSP lens.

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What’s Going On

[02:35] Richard just finished keynoting MSPCon 2018 in Paris, which is the biggest MSP conference for French MSPs. He talked about his journey moving from break-fix to managed services.

[03:22] France has very little MSP community. Companies aren’t working collaboratively very much there.

[04:19] There used to be a lot more MSP communities. Many of them have faded out and there are only a few left.

[04:30] The one place they never seem to fade is Australia. In the US, there used to be three or four dozen thriving MSP communities. Now there’s probably less than a dozen active groups.

[04:54] A lot of younger people are looking for business advice online.

[06:02] There are more online communities now. Nigel Moore’s Tech Tribe is a great community. Other places, like Reddit, can be hit and miss in terms of the advice you get.

[07:16] There are a number of commercial organizations that help people to get together like HTG, Network Group, and Synaxon.They’re great but they do require a commitment of time and money that not every MSP may be able to make.

[08:20] Karl loves as a way to create groups.

[08:35] 500 million people were affected by the Marriott data breach this week. Marriott customers had their passport numbers and other data stolen.

[09:34] Passport numbers are a new element that people hadn’t thought about having stolen.

[10:07] The Marriott data hasn’t shown up on the dark web which means it was probably stolen by a state actor, not a hacker looking to sell credit card information.

[10:57] Richard asks Karl how he describes the dark web to clients. Karl says, the web you can get to from Google is the visible web. The dark web is a separate internet where people who want to stay anonymous live. It’s not all evil.

[11:37] If you’re in a country that suppresses free speech, for example, you might need a way to get in touch with organizations that will help you get out of that country. There are some things on the dark web that serve good purposes.

[11:59] But there’s also a whole big area of the dark web that’s involved in illegal activities.

[12:34] MSPs have recently been showing an interest in the dark web because there are now tools like ID Agent that can help them identify when clients or prospects have been breached.

[14:09] Anytime there’s a breach, it’s opportunity to have strong conversations with clients.

Interview with Luis Alvarez – MSP Opportunities and Challenges in IoT

Luis Alvarez, Alvarez Technology Group podcast interview
Luis Alvarez, Alvarez Technology Group

[15:11] I’m talking to Luis Alvarez of Alvarez Technology Group (ATG) about IoT in the context of being a managed service provider.

[15:20] ATG kind of stumbled into their IoT specialization. They’re in Salinas, California, where 80% of the fresh produce consumed in America is grown.

[16:07] The large agricultural companies in the area began looking for technology to be more efficient, reduce cost, and meet regulatory requirements. For instance, in California, you have to monitor things like runoff and where water is going after it’s been in the field.

[16:34] Workers outside the farms’ offices or data centers—people like warehouse managers and field managers—started buying point technology solutions.

[17:36] They would call Luis’ team after the fact for support, like getting help with IP addresses or setting up wireless networks so field devices could talk to the main network.

[18:04] When Luis started noticing this, he became proactive and started talking to the workers about their technology needs.

[18:36] This is how ATG started specializing in IoT.

[18:54] The MSP industry is changing quite a bit. The traditional MSP services don’t have the same value they used to.

[19:22] As a result, Luis and his team started looking for other ways to add value to their clients’ businesses, such as cloud, security, and IoT.

[19:39] He decided to leverage the unique niche he has in his area with ag tech. All of the field sensors and other IoT devices need to be managed, maybe even more critically than a server or PC needs to be managed.

[20:48] For example, farms use huge ammonia tanks to clean vegetables. The ammonia is very volatile and the tanks need to be monitored 24/7 for temperature and pressure and to quickly alert on any anomalies. The process used to be analog but is now mostly done using SNMP and smart devices.

[21:25] To manage these IoT devices correctly, ATG had to find new tools. The traditional RMM tools don’t do a good job of managing things that aren’t PC and servers. When managing IoT devices, you need a tool set that speaks SNMP and other languages, that gives you different visibility.

[22:32] ATG worked with IoT vendors to help get SNMP into the sensors so that devices could be remotely managed through the cloud. They’re now working with IoT manufacturers to improve device security.

[23:55] Luis’s team did need to pick up some new skills..

[24:44] ATG has also been deploying smart surveillance systems that include 4k cameras and high-capacity storage devices. That’s a whole different skill set than setting up PCs and servers.

[25:27] ATG charges a flat fee for IoT services. They don’t take on any project they can’t wrap managed services around.

[26:54] The biggest challenge Luis faced getting his IoT practice set up was getting a seat at the business table with clients, to get insight into requirements before decisions were made. They worked hard to have those conversations and leverage the trust they’d built.

[29:31] Luis see a lot of interest in IoT from MSPs. He suggests starting small with something you already know. Don’t try to be all things to all people. Also look for IoT manufacturers and vendors who are looking for partners to help bring their products to market.

What’s Going On

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