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Top Of The Mountain: CRN’s 2020 Triple Crown Award Winners

Here are 44 solution providers who have continued to thrive during a challenging year, building on their track records of rapid growth and wide-ranging technology expertise.

With a global pandemic, a faltering economy and national turmoil over racial injustice, 2020 has been a year of uncertainty and challenges for businesses. For the IT industry and the channel community, it also has been a year of sudden shifts in demand for IT products and services as customers moved to a work-from-home model that required more laptop PCs, collaboration tools and remote support.

Despite the challenges, many solution providers that have excelled during the economic expansion in recent years are continuing to thrive in this trying year by building on their track records of rapid growth and leveraging strengths such as their technical proficiency and deep service offerings.

Each year CRN develops lists and rankings of solution providers, including The Solution Provider 500, the largest solution providers in North America by revenue; The Fast Growth 150, ranking the fastest growing solution providers; and The Tech Elite 250, which identifies solution providers with the highest-level certifications from major IT vendors.

And each year a number of solution providers make all three lists – an impressive accomplishment. This year 44 solution providers pulled off that feat to become the 2020 class of CRN Triple Crown award winners.

One such company is San Diego-based EVOTEK, a fast-growing solution provider (No. 132 on the CRN Solution Provider 500) that appears on the Triple Crown list for the third consecutive year. EVOTEK was No. 24 on this year’s Fast Growth 150 with a two-year average growth rate of 133.35 percent.

EVOTEK operates data center, cybersecurity, cloud, networking and communications practices, and develops digital platform solutions. While the company boasts deep expertise in those technology areas, founder and managing partner Cesar Enciso says what makes the company stand out from other solution providers are the company’s deep-relationship advisory services and its service-focused culture. “The culture is most definitely the biggest differentiator in what we’re doing,” Enciso said in an interview with CRN.

The company’s emphasis on expertise and advisory services is very different from the sell-more-product approach taken by many solution providers. “A lot of the time we tell them they already have the solutions they need, they just don’t know how to use them,” Enciso said.

Enciso, who has worked in segments of the IT industry for 30 years, started EVOTEK in 2014 after working as general manager at solution provider Trace3 and before that as a regional vice president at solution provider Technologent.

Each of EVOTEK’s practices is led by a former corporate IT executive who has dealt with many of the challenges faced by clients: The cybersecurity practice, for example, is led by a former chief information security officer. EVOTEK consultants not only look at clients’ current IT and business needs, “but what they need to get to where they want to be in four or five years,” Enciso said. In August the company launched EVOTEK Labs, a new offering to help IT managers identify potentially beneficial emerging technologies.

Making this year’s Triple Crown list for the second consecutive year is managed services provider Thrive, offering next-generation cloud, cybersecurity, disaster recovery and global network management technology services.

Based in Foxborough, Mass., Thrive (No. 278 on the CRN Solution Provider 500) targets mid-market clients offering the kind of sophisticated services customers might expect from an IBM or Cognizant, according to CEO Rob Stephenson, but with the more personal service of a smaller MSP. (Thrive was No. 54 on this year’s Fast Growth 150 list with 81.52 percent two-year average growth.)

Thrive’s services lineup span cloud, cybersecurity, disaster recovery, global network management and more traditional managed IT and professional services. (Thrive also operates a security operations center in Portland, Maine.) Clients in the financial services industry account for about 60 to 65 percent of Thrive’s business while the company also serves customers in the healthcare, retail, education and life sciences verticals.

“Our goal has really been to build a sophisticated cloud- and cybersecurity-focused MSP that can handle the midmarket,” Stephenson said in an interview with CRN, adding that there are few such MSPs that are well-financed and have extensive technical capabilities. “The midmarket is looking for a lot of deep engineering resources that are focused on cloud and cybersecurity, but still provide a strong, white-glove, concierge level of support.”

Thrive prides itself on its employees – especially its deep bench of engineering talent. “We have a very talented engineering group and some of the most hardworking, dedicated employees that I’ve ever had in my 30 some-odd-year career. We’ve built out an incredibly strong sales team,” the CEO said.

One of the strategic service provider’s keys to success is its “Thrive 5” five-step methodology for helping customers develop a customized IT roadmap for optimizing and protecting business applications and data. The process begins with working with C-level executives to develop high-level IT strategies and goals and then moves through current technology assessment, comprehensive solution design, solution implementation and optimization, and 24x7 managed services. “The key is to make a quick return-on-investment,” Stephenson said.

Just last week Thrive announced that it had acquired Timlin Enterprises, a provider of applications and services around the Microsoft 365 platform.

Seattle-based 2nd Watch is on the Triple Crown list for the third year (previously appearing in 2017 and 2018). No. 134 on the Solution Provider 500 list, 2nd Watch was No. 30 on this year’s Fast Growth 150 list with 117.86 percent average two-year growth.

2nd Watch, launched in 2011, offers professional and managed services around public cloud infrastructure: CEO Doug Schneider calls 2nd Watch “a leader in the post-hardware era.”

The strategic service provider serves customers in the $500 million to $10 billion annual revenue range and partners with AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud and VMware Cloud. Professional and consulting services cover business transformation, data center migration and application modernization, DevOps, data engineering, and a range of security, compliance and business continuity services.

Demand for 2nd Watch’s management services is being driven by “this ever-expanding, what I call, the public cloud operating system,” Schneider says. While some firms are focused on professional consulting services and others are MSPs, the CEO attributes 2nd Watch’s success, in part, to “a very good balance of both.”

Also making this year’s Triple Crown list is Clearpath Solutions Group, which provides consulting and managed services and solutions around data center technologies, cloud computing, IP networking, IT security, data protection and security, and communications and collaboration. While the Reston, Va.-based strategic services provider is particularly focused on clients in the Washington D.C. region, it has clients with operations in Massachusetts, Florida, Texas and other states and even internationally. The company recently expanded into the New Jersey-Delaware area.

President and CEO Gary Vaughn acquired Clearpath in 2018 (Clearpath was sold to CompuCom in 2016 and CompuCom was bought by Office Depot in 2017) and Vaughn says Clearpath is still staffing up – especially in sales, sales leadership and pre-sales engineering. Nevertheless, Clearpath was No. 315 on this year’s Solution Provider 500 and was No. 140 on the Fast Growth 150 with a two-year average growth rate of 40.63 percent.

Clearpath’s goal is to develop long-term relationships with customers, Vaughn said. “We want our clients to be clients for life. We don’t want to sell the SPIF [sales performance incentive fund] of the day.”

The metrics used to select the solution providers on the 2020 Triple Crown list pre-date the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing recession. While this year’s Triple Crown solution providers and strategic service providers haven’t been immune from the impact of the pandemic, they appear better positioned to weather the tough year and even prosper.

Stephenson at Thrive acknowledges that business has slowed somewhat from double-digit growth at the start of the year to a range of 7 to 10 percent with the company on track to record sales of $65 million to $70 million in 2020 – about 85 to 90 percent of the original forecast.

The CEO said some businesses have delayed the start of new, large-scale IT projects. But the long-range outlook remains bright with Thrive seeing more RFPs (requests for proposals) for digital transformation projects as far out as 2022.

Despite the pandemic and the tough economy, Enciso said EVOTEK is poised to grow about 90 percent this year to revenue of about $340 million. Enciso said his company has even benefitted from the unsettled economy because many businesses, with frozen IT budgets, are looking to do more with less and are whittling down the number of solution providers they work with. “If you do this right, you’ll end up with a bigger piece of the pie,” he said.

At Clearpath, Vaughn said hiring top talent can be a challenge in the tough economy with the best people often choosing to hunker down if they feel safe in their current jobs. After a robust first quarter, the executive said business slowed in April and May “until everybody found their new normal.” Sales rebounded in the third quarter and Vaughn said Q4 “is looking very strong.”

At 2nd Watch, Schneider said that once past the initial pause in spending that much of the industry felt in the March-to-May timeframe, his company saw an increase in demand for professional services from businesses and organizations trying to get control of their public cloud spending.

“We help clients save millions to tens of millions on the public cloud,” the CEO said. And he added that the pandemic has created a new wave of companies looking to move on-premises IT workloads to the cloud.

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