The ASCII Group has a lot to celebrate. In 2024, it’s marking its 40th anniversary, and looking back on how it has helped managed service providers (MSPs), value-added resellers (VARs), IT consultants, and managed security service providers (MSSPs) succeed.
The organization has seen steady membership growth year over year and now has about 1,400 members across North America. In 2024, The ASCII Group is eyeing expansion, focusing on international markets and emphasizing education, peer groups, and knowledge sharing.
ASCII can also celebrate that fact that its members are loyal, both to the profession and to the group. About 35 percent of members have been in business for more than 20 years, and the average ASCII membership is over 9 years, with almost half of members participating for more than 10 years.
To help you understand The ASCII Group’s mission, history, and accomplishments, the organization’s leadership team and members look back – and look ahead.
What was the objective of founding The ASCII Group?
Alan Weinberger, Chairman & CEO: In the 1980s, when the IBM PC emerged as the game-changing office technology, the largest retailers and franchisors froze out the vast majority of smaller IT shops from competing fairly with these larger companies. These smaller business owners together could be a larger force to help our country be better served with this new technology. Recognizing the potential of these smaller companies to collectively make a significant impact, I and around 40 “dealers” formed a new type of organization to leverage the power of these smaller companies. I created a unique business community that would allow members to stay independent entrepreneurs while being a part of a trusted like-minded group.
For people who aren’t familiar with the organization, share a little about what ASCII is and how members interact with the group and each other.
Jerry Koutavas, President: For many, ASCII is more than a community of business owners willing to share and collaborate. ASCII is a strategic extension of their business. When you consider that 45 percent of small businesses fail within the first five years, ASCII members have the unique advantage of leveraging a large network of businesses and their vast experiences over the years to help lend guidance and suggestions to their fellow peers that, are doing the exact same thing in return. This wealth of information that is exchanged helps each member make better decisions for their business. This type of collaboration takes place in many forms from discussion boards, member events, peer meetings, committees, and ASCII’s own sub-contracting help desk. The more we can connect everyone, the stronger we are as a community.
Joshua Liberman, President & Founder of Net Sciences, Inc. and ASCII member: I joined ASCII in the 90s, when my business was quite young, but I was a bit slow to catch on. Then, about 15 years ago, I began my transition from an integrator and generalist IT shop to becoming a fully-fledged MSP with a strong focus on security.
Back then, the vendor discounts more than paid my dues, while my knowledge of the industry ecosystem and its denizens greatly improved. I became part of the industry, rather than just an observer, largely due to my commitment to The ASCII Group.
ASCII offers endless benefits, including exposure to vendors, newsletter and social media posting, work sharing, and nine shows a year across the U.S. and Canada fostering education, community, and collegiality, and the most lively and effective peer forums in the industry.
Has member interaction with the group changed through the years?
Koutavas: The complexities of this business have changed so dramatically that I have to believe some MSPs may get nostalgic reflecting back on simpler times when break-fix was just that. However today, it’s a different game all together. The stakes are significantly higher and unfortunately in an unregulated service industry, many small businesses rely on less mature IT service companies that could put them at risk if they are cutting corners. This is obviously not new, but with the advent of large training models associated with AI that bad actors will ultimately tap into, the security risk for small business will increase dramatically. This will be a great opportunity for MSPs to reestablish themselves as the trusted advisor of technical services for businesses they are serving or seeking to serve.
What are some of the challenges The ASCII Group has helped members navigate over the past 40 years?
Weinberger: A leading challenge The ASCII Group has helped members to overcome is the nature of IT which requires a national footprint to serve customers, who many times have more than one location and may be spread among a number of states or even internationally. With a “trusted community for IT professionals” like ASCII, members who pay membership dues can be assured of a cohort in the group that can help them with local “boots on the ground” as needed for remote local services. The fast pace of technological advancements demands continuous learning and adaptation, and we believe the best way to learn is through peer-to-peer education. At ASCII, we understand the importance of staying ahead of the curve that’s why we offer a variety of educational resources and opportunities for our members including SPARK peer groups, our 24/7/365 members-only forum, live events, and webinars.
What are the current challenges members are working together to overcome?
Doug Young, COO & Senior Vice President: With an ever-increasing need for technical staff, deciphering how to scale their businesses and optimizing project management, it’s crucial for our MSP members to stay ahead of the game. Add to that a rapidly expanding and evolving vendor landscape and you can see why our members-only forum is a flurry of activity and information each day. ASCII provides a venue that brings together like-minded individuals to discuss business issues with people that they know and trust. From utilizing the latest AI advancements to setting up shop in a new geographic area, our members are helping each other every day to succeed and grow.
What do you see as the future of the channel and ASCII’s role in it?
Koutavas: I love technology, and it pains me to say this, but technology changes so much that what is in your stack this year, may not be in it next. However, what remains constant is typically something that does not get addressed, and that is the complete customer experience. From sales to service, I believe this is where we can help MSPs adopt strategies and approaches that will provide a better client experience overall. This is still a people business when you strip away everything. Homing in on the very notion on how to make doing business with your company seamless is where I believe MSPs can find gains.
How will The ASCII Group mark its 40th anniversary?
Alysia Vetter, Vice President of Marketing: For four decades, The ASCII Group has been at the forefront of technology, connecting IT professionals and fostering a thriving community. Throughout 2024, we will be honoring this achievement by sharing key milestones and insights from our journey. It’s not every day that a technology company reaches such a remarkable milestone with its original founder and CEO, and we feel privileged to do that with Alan Weinberger.
As we reflect on our evolution as the original IT community in the channel, one thing remains unchanged – our commitment to putting our members first. We are dedicated to providing our members with the resources, support, and collaboration opportunities needed to thrive in the ever-changing world of technology.
About The ASCII Group, Inc.
The ASCII Group is the premier community of North American MSPs, MSSPs, VARs and solution providers. The group has over 1,300 members located throughout the U.S. and Canada, and membership encompasses everyone from credentialed MSPs serving the SMB community to multi-location solution providers with a national reach. Founded in 1984, ASCII provides services to members including leveraged purchasing programs, education and training, marketing assistance, extensive peer interaction and more. ASCII works with a vibrant ecosystem of major technology vendors that complement the ASCII community and support the mission of helping MSPs and VARs to grow their businesses. For more information, please visit www.ascii.com.