Symantec Partner Engage: Fixes For Support, Product Quality Under Way

"Our future is inextricably linked to you," Salem said to an audience of hundreds of channel partners during his opening keynote at the 2008 Symantec Partner Engage conference, held in Washington, D.C. "We're driving a lot of changes to make sure that it is easier for you to work with Symantec."

Salem kicked off his speech by reassuring Symantec partners that they continue to be integral to the company's growth and success.

"The majority of Symantec's business has gone through our channel partners, and that will not change," said Salem.

But while some of the existing hurdles are already being worked out, Salem alluded that there is still a long way to go. During his keynote, Salem said Symantec plans to simplify its price list, while creating renewal SKUs to make the the renewal process easier. "A lot of our business is driving those renewals," said Salem.

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Addressing years of partner criticism citing fundamental flaws and lack of reliability in some of its key product lines, Salem said Symantec needs to "be committed to delivering higher- quality products." One of the ways to accomplish this is what Salem called "eating our own cooking." Salem said that as updates are released, they will be tested and used first at Symantec before being released to channel partners and brought to market.

In addition, Salem said the company will aim to invest in zero-impact security along with improved detection rates.

"We've stubbed our toe a little bit, but I think we've rectified that," he said.

Support is another area Symantec has slated for improvements, Salem noted. Partners strongly expressed frustration with the copious amount of phone support numbers—all of which result in different recommendations, Salem said. The company has eliminated all but one of those support numbers.

However, the list of problems didn't stop there, as Salem acknowledged that "no one is immune" to the outcome of a plunging stock market, a national credit crisis and an uncertain economic future.

Salem said customers are still allocating IT dollars but are taking longer to make purchasing decisions and inserting a few more steps in the buying process.

"We have definitely seen a change of tone in the buying community," said Salem. "At this point there's great opportunity, but we have to show the ROI, from purchase to value."

Symantec hopes to weather the economic storm partly by increasing its focus on Software-as-a-Service, Salem said, adding that the company also plans to build out data loss prevention, virtualization, information risk management and compliance offerings.

"The devices of the future are going to look very different than the devices you use today," he said.

Also, in an effort to move away from scores of point products added by the company's numerous acquisitions, Salem said plans are in the works to build a baseline architecture that can subsequently incorporate various technologies in one comprehensive platform.

"Unlike previous efforts, this platform is something that's in production today. We're already seeing initial success," he said.

Finally, Salem said that despite challenging economic times, Symantec plans to invest about a billion dollars a year to beef up its portfolio, as well as continue to conduct acquisitions such as the recently announced deal to purchase online messaging vendor MessageLabs—a deal Salem said was questioned by Wall Street.

"The Wall Street analysts said, 'Why now?' Our response is, we're going to continue to run our business," he said. "And we'll be even more successful coming out of this."