Virtual Tradeshow Panel: Security Still Growing In Economic Downturn

That was the consensus from executives speaking on Everything Channel's Virtual Tradeshow panel, "What's Selling In Security Right Now," held Tuesday.

Security seems to be bucking recessionary trends, panelists maintained, and one of the reasons is the enormity and sophistication of Trojans, viruses and other data-stealing malware. Often, executives said, companies are forced to address those threats regardless of economic times. As a result, the evolving nature of the security landscape will continue to drive growth in the security industry.

"Security is a safe harbor for that business," said Dave Roberts, vice president of sales for the Americas at Websense. "As that threat evolves, it forces people to develop different technologies to address those threats.

One of the reasons that security remains strong, executives said, is that all businesses, regardless of size or nature, have a need to protect customer and corporate data from both internal and external threats.

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"Whether it's good times or bad times, security is still a top priority," said Randy Cochran, vice president of channel sales for the Americas at Symantec. "In security today, with all of your customers, it really starts with the information. It has to be secured, protected and managed. Whether you address small businesses, midsize businesses or large enterprises, the issues are still the same. The No. 1 asset is information."

However, everyone agreed that the rapidly changing economic climate forced security vendors to do business differently than in times past.

Fernando Quintero, vice president of channel operations for the Americas at McAfee, said that changing economic conditions force security vendors to innovate and differentiate in order to remain competitive and gain market share.

"Make sure to differentiate yourself. You have to do something that is unique and different," Quintero said.

One of the things partners can do to gain market share is specialize and develop a niche expertise, executives said.

"Some partners like to be that general contractor," said Susan Don, director of security business development and worldwide channels for Cisco. "Then you get some projects in your house where you realize you need a specialist."

Organizations have different security needs now than they did a year ago, executives agreed. But there are areas of focus that partners and vendors alike can emphasize to ensure margins and gain a competitive edge in the weak economy.

Don said that maintaining margins often comes down to developing tight relationships with customers and truly understanding their security needs.

"There's this tendency to rush the sale of the product. But at the end of the day, I think it takes real discipline. Stop and make sure to ask real questions. It's about solving a problem and investing in education," she said. "We encourage our partners to invest in education. It's not about the volume at all."

Symantec's Cochran said that as customers consolidate vendors and technologies, the resellers who partner with fewer vendors, while specializing solely in security, will likely be the ones to retain their customers.

"It's about getting really good in that craft. If you're all across the board, it's very hard to become that resident expert," Cochran said. "It's very tough to maintain a relationship with a stable of vendors vs. a couple of vendors."

Vendors also are required to invest in their partners if they want their partners to retain margins. Those investments include everything from extensive training programs to sophisticated partner portals and e-learning technologies, executives said.

And despite the challenges created by the economic downturn, partners are finding opportunities in other areas, such as public sector verticals, in light of a federal stimulus package funding that includes mandates for government organizations to enhance security, deploy encryption and digitize health records.

"Vertical customers require vertical programs," Quintero said. "We've pushed out resources dedicated to the customers. We're looking at better ways to ensure our commercial programs don't get mixed with our public programs."

Executives say those new opportunities might ultimately help turn the economic tide going forward.

"We're excited about the pipeline," Roberts said. "We're excited about the breadth of resellers participating. Hopefully the headwinds have lessened."