Symantec Promises Partners More Control And Less Complexity, But Some Wonder If It's Too Little, Too Late


Symantec executives say the company is finally emerging from a year that saw significant senior management upheaval including the dismissal of the chief executive overseeing a slew of organizational changes.

Former CEO Steve Bennett carried out deep staffing cuts under a restructuring that affected 90 percent of Symantec's sales force. Most financial experts saw the cost-reduction measures as essential to creating a more agile company that can respond to the rapid pace of market and technology changes.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based company put on its best face at its annual Vision user conference in May, relying on short keynote segments from interim CEO Mike Brown, followed by entertainment provided by a master illusionist. But Brown didn't mince words with the company's most valued customers and partners attending the event at Caesars Resort Casino in Las Vegas. Within minutes of taking the stage, he acknowledged the company's sluggishness and pledged to focus heavily on product innovation.

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"You'll see us partner more than we ever had before in the past," Brown said. "You want more control and less complexity, and we've built this into everything we do."

Brown, a storage veteran, was a former Veritas executive who joined Symantec's board of directors following its 2005 acquisition of the company. During his keynote, he signaled no desire to split the company's storage and security business and said nothing about rumored reports that the company was considering a breakup.

"Security and storage go hand in hand," he said, explaining that he is overseeing a continuation of some of Bennet's plan of reducing costs, and implementing measures to withdraw from areas that the company isn't competing in and invest heavily in new, integrated offerings.

A CULTURE OF 'PARTNER CENTRICITY'

The company unveiled its retooled North American channel program to a key group of partners attending an executive summit during the Vision event. Executives also unveiled a new managed services offering for advanced threat detection and incident response and said its engineers were busy creating a new offering to detect advanced threats by bridging its endpoint, email and Web security gateway components with a cloud-based threat protection and suspicious file analysis sandbox.

Symantec customers and partners attending the event said the promised new products, network security vendor partnerships and channel changes are sorely needed, but shared concern that sacking Bennett could further delay efforts to right the ship.

"I don't think there's any doubt that it's been a difficult and troubling road for the company," said Roland Hashem, a sales manager at Dubai, United Arab Emirates-based services provider STME. "We're excited about Symantec's future and how it re-establishes itself."

Bennett's firing, combined with the recent departure of other senior executives is, not surprisingly, going to have a short-term impact on the company, said Jason Livingston, managing director and co-founder of Bloomington, Minn.-based Intuitive Technology Group. The company is still moving forward on its strategy changes with no divergent strategy alterations following Bennett's departure, and customers should look at that positively, he said.

"Any time you have this type of turnover there is going to be a period of time where there is going to be skepticism," Livingston said. "The reason for the shakeup is that the company was not moving fast enough and there was not a lot of focus on product, but Symantec is focused on product now and that is a good message for people to hear."

The new North American channel partner program focuses on getting partners to double down on their efforts to sell Symantec products from key areas of the company's portfolio. It will reward partners that specialize in a dozen "competency" areas that include Dynamic Storage and Continuity, Security Monitoring and Management, and Endpoint Security, among others. The program brings nearly 20 different partner models that Symantec acquired and integrated over years and streamlines them, prompting praise from partners thrilled with the reduced complexity.

Livingston said the changes significantly increase the potential money that partners can earn. Prior to the company's Big Bets strategy, partners could earn 10 points on the front end and 8 points on the back end. Under the new program, there's an opportunity to make up to 35 points on the back end, he said.

"It's going to level the playing field for partners that invest in the technology," Livingston said. "The way Symantec is going to market now is no longer relying on internal sales teams and instead focusing a lot on the partner networks and having the partners sell their complex solutions."

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