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Tech Data’s plans to offer interoperable managed services tools to VARs looking to move into the managed services arena came as no big surprise to industry observers.

But the company’s unveiling of its plan goes deeper than the three technology partners—ConnectWise, N-able and Trend Micro—announced during the distributor’s recent TechSelect conference in Salt Lake City.

Bob O’Malley, vice president of U.S. marketing at the Clearwater, Fla., distributor, called the initiative an “architecture.” The overarching plan is to create a managed services standard that vendors can plug into, thereby giving VARs a whole set of interoperable MSP tools from a variety of companies.

O’Malley views these tools as coming from four separate areas—MSP platform tools such as those offered by N-able and ConnectWise; manufacturer initiatives such as the recently announced

SAAS (software-as-a-service) offering from Trend Micro; still unnamed business applications; and VAR-initiated managed services.

“This is going to be much more of a collaborative process than ever before,” said O’Malley.

ConnectWise, which has already developed APIs (application programming interfaces), is working closely with Tech Data on the standards effort. The goal is to create a layer above the APIs that most vendors and service providers offer that allow developers to interoperate, said ConnectWise CEO Arnie Bellini.

“Right now we are integrating our PSA [professional service automation] solutions into Tech Data’s distribution solutions to allow for an end-to-end solution for delivering goods and services all the way from the manufacturer down to the end client,” said Bellini. “This is basically a modern version of EDI.”

Bellini said the standard will be XML-based.

“Right now everyone just writes their own APIs and tells everyone else to write to them,” Bellini said. “We are putting a middle layer in place that lets everyone write their APIs to this middle layer.”

In addition to its existing suite of PSA tools, ConnectWise is creating a purchasing module that will allow ConnectWise users to purchase directly from within ConnectWise from distribution. So far efforts are under way to integrate with Tech Data, although Bellini said he has also spoken with Ingram Micro and wants to get more distributors involved.

Other modules under development at ConnectWise include a return merchandize authorization module.

“That’s always been a big headache in the industry,” Bellini said. “This is done in a manual and separate system. We will build these new modules into ConnectWise.” He promised a beta by the end of this year.