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The ASCII Group’s 35-Year Balancing Act
asciistaging   October 16, 2019

The ASCII Group’s 35-Year Balancing Act

Founded in 1984, the IT community remains as relevant as ever in an industry defined by unceasing change. By Rich Freeman

TO CALL THE ASCII GROUP an IT community is to be reminded just how much IT has changed since the organization’s founding in 1984.

Back then, most members sold PC hardware and software. Today, most provide managed and cloud services. Yet for 35 years, all of them have shared common aspirations and common challenges, and The ASCII Group has been providing relevant, appreciated answers.

It’s an impressive feat given how many one-time industry heavyweights have vanished in that time span. Speak with members, though, and it soon becomes clear that The ASCII Group has something most companies, both inside and outside IT, lack: an exquisite sense of balance between seemingly irreconcilable forces.

Between the Power of Many and the Autonomy of One

Fundamentally, The ASCII Group’s mission is to help channel pros get more, be more, and go further than they can on their own. Leveraging the collective clout of its members, ASCII negotiates discounts on marketing services, software, shipping, cyber insurance, credit card processing, and more, not to mention favorable terms with distributors.

“That’s something that a one-man shop without an ASCII is going to really struggle with getting, or is going to pay a significantly higher amount for, because they don’t have that entirety of the community and our buying power,” observes Stephen Monk (pictured at top, left), CEO of Roseville, Calif.-based solution provider Noverus Innovations.

That community is a source of collective wisdom as well as price breaks. Through resources like the ASCII-Link online forum, for example, members trade advice on products, troubleshooting, and other technical matters.

“I don’t have to wait days or weeks to try to get this info. I can get it within hours or minutes,” says Monk, who leaned heavily on member comments several years ago before making the jump to a new networking platform. “That was only something I felt comfortable doing after getting feedback from the group on its reliability, how to use it, and how to set it up.”

Many members prize the business counsel they get from peers even more highly than the technical insights. David Stinner, for example, regularly bounces ideas for growth strategies and operational enhancements off other ASCII-Link users. “That’s one of the best benefits for me,” says Stinner, who is president of US itek, an MSP and system builder in Tonawanda, N.Y. “I can just find somebody who’s already done it or is doing it right now and ask them for their advice, and hopefully not make the same mistakes they’ve made.”

Members share more than just thoughts, however. With assistance from ASCII, those who need access points deployed at a customer’s branch office 1,000 miles away, for example, can farm the work out to a fellow community member without fear of having their account stolen.

“A couple years ago, we had a big project with a national company, and they have basically 350 offices throughout the U.S.,” recalls Shawn Scott, president of Advanced Computer Solutions Inc., an MSP in Fishersville, Va. The ASCII Group helped him assemble the army of partners he needed to complete the job. “We couldn’t have done it without them,” Scott says.

Of course, ASCII isn’t the only place channel pros can go for discounts, knowledge sharing, and a coast-to-coast labor pool. IT franchisors like TeamLogic IT and CMIT, for example, offer all three. They, however, have a specific recipe for doing business that franchisees must follow. The ASCII Group lets members make their own rules.

“In other groups, what I’ve seen is that things are pushed,” says Angel Rojas (pictured at top, right), CEO of DataCorps Technology Solutions, an IT services provider in Brandon, Fla. “Product is pushed. Behavior is pushed. How to run a business is pushed. With ASCII, I haven’t felt a single bit of pressure.”

That’s how most entrepreneurs like it, according to Alan Weinberger, The ASCII Group’s founder and CEO. “They want to have autonomy,” he says. “The last thing they want to do is be in a big organization where they can’t do what they want to do.”

Between Vendors and Members

ASCII is bound closely not only to its members but to many of the vendors those members buy from. Those relationships enable it to help each community get more of what it needs from the other.

For vendors, that’s both new customers and honest input. “It helps obviously drive the product roadmap for a channel-only company to get real-time feedback from the field,” says Scott Barlow, vice president of global MSP at security vendor Sophos. “ASCII does a really good job at facilitating that.”

It also, however, fights on behalf of members when vendors get something wrong. Good luck grabbing Microsoft’s attention about a licensing issue as a sole practitioner, Rojas notes. “When it’s an industry group, when there’s weight behind it of all the membership, that’s different.”

“We’re educating the industry on how they should work with MSPs,” says ASCII President Jerry Koutavas.

Between Listening and Leading

ASCII pays close heed to what members want through advisory committees and other means. It also, however, educates members on what they should want.

“The industry moves so fast, most MSPs don’t have enough time just to slow down, to research trends,” Koutavas says. “We help do the research for them.” Part of the group’s formula for longevity, in fact, has been repeatedly anticipating where the industry is heading and shepherding members in that direction. That was managed services 10 years ago.

“When we saw the first RMM companies coming to us, we knew that it was an opportunity for our members to scale their business in a manner that was never provided before,” Koutavas says. The next new things, he continues, are managed security and virtual CIO services.

Between Old and New

Keeping pace with a frenetically evolving industry while remaining true to its community spirit is arguably The ASCII Group’s ultimate balancing act, and the biggest reason some members have been with it for decades.

“If you’re an ASCII member, you’ve most likely been an ASCII member for a very long period of time, and you will continue to be an ASCII member just based on the networking and the friendships that you’ve created over the years,” Barlow says.

Not to mention the help you’ve gotten tackling problems most IT businesses face. “We’ve been solving those problems for over 35 years,” Koutavas says.

Reprinted with permission, courtesy of ChannelPro Network.