RSA: New Technology Focus Means New Skill Sets For Partners

RSA, The Security Division of EMC, is retooling its channel program to address an expanding product portfolio, shifting it away from a program supporting its hardware token business to one that provides training for its broader authentication business and sales of its network appliance for security analytics.

This week, the security vendor is meeting with partners at its TechFest, a three-day internal training event that puts together RSA technical engineers with partners and RSA internal sales teams. In an interview with CRN, RSA executives said the company is maintaining a mixture of direct and indirect sales and looking closely at its channel partners to better determine their areas of expertise, their commitment to RSA technologies and whether additional training is needed.

"Gone are days where we say sell everything that is on the RSA truck," said Thomas Weldon, RSA's senior director, Americas channels and inside sales. "We're spending a lot of time looking at how our partners go to market, where their expertise exists with technical sales and where they want to focus."

[Related: RSA Exec Urges Partners To Address Threats With Next-Gen Security ]

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With hardware token use steadily declining at enterprises in favor of mobile and other authentication measures, the Bedford, Mass., company wants its partner base to embrace its adaptive authentication strategy.

RSA is integrating its recently acquired identity and access management platform maker Aveksa and, in network security, slowly phasing out its EnVision security information event management platform in favor of its reconfigured NetWitness network monitoring appliance for analytics. RSA also acquired Silicum Security, adding the company's ECAT memory behavioral analysis tool for custom malware detection. In addition, RSA engineers are busy integrating the company's risk management, Web fraud detection and data loss prevention platform.

"The more we kick the bushes and profile what our customer base is looking for, we can get the right authorized partners into that client," said William Taylor, vice president of worldwide channels and alliances at RSA. "As the marketplace changes and perimeter defense goes away, we want to train partners on what's coming; some of that skill set that we're trying to drive the partners to get to, which is the forensics mentality."

Taylor said he wants to get the channel to grow faster than RSA's business. Sales growth inside of each partner should be 10 percent faster than overall company growth, he said. Ultimately, that will drive more growth for RSA, giving it the ability to acquire more technologies and enabling its direct sales force to focus on growing new business, Taylor said.

"We need to invest in the channel now because the reality is that I need to put that money in now if I ever expect a return, and we are OK to do that," Taylor said.

NEXT: Partners See Interest In RSA's Growing Product Set

RSA's growing security portfolio has benefited partners with strong security consultancies, said Joseph Cordaro, a senior security architect at Dallas-based security firm Critical Start. Cordaro said Critical Start partners with more than a dozen security vendors and has five sales engineers and five engineers on its technical team.

Businesses are interested in antimalware technologies, security analytics and packet-capturing technology to identify and contain threats on the network, he said. "We typically partner with best-of-breed solutions that solve more complex problems, and that is where RSA does a good job," Cordaro said.

RSA margins are on par with the rest of the industry, he said. A better partner portal easing access to documentation and other materials will help the channel, Cordaro said.

RSA has started retooling its SecurWorld Academy training program to focus on deeper dives into product disciplines. New online video training modules are followed up with a face-to-face discussion -- called whiteboard sessions --with RSA system engineers, who use the time to evaluate partners on their skills and commitment to the product road map. Once approved, system engineeers and partners then go on joint sales calls. RSA also gives approved partners free demo equipment for training and sales engagements.

Profiling by RSA ensures that the right partners are trained in the right product disciplines, Taylor said. Partners need to have experience with adjacent technologies and have skilled and committed staff.

"If you are going to go into the security analytics space, we want to make sure that you understand that there is going to be some forensics expertise that you either need to have or train up on," Taylor said. "You need to have knowledge of networking infrastructure and be willing to invest in this space because this isn't something you can just jump into overnight; it's a complicated technology."

Marketing plans also have been more closely aligned with a partner's specific product expertise. Asset guides give partners a menu of campaigns they can choose from based on the type of marketing they like to do -- from advertising to call blitzes to field marketing events. Recent marketing programs have focused on security analytics, authentication and risk management products, and RSA has said that Silver Tail and Aveksa are being rolled into campaigns as well.

Taylor said RSA also works with distributors Ingram Micro, Arrow Electronics and Avnet to align marketing campaigns with partners. Distributors are given passes to give out to partners to attend the RSA TechFest event.

Arrow has been growing its relationship with RSA for four years, building out a channel development team around the company's portfolio. RSA's expanding product line requires the vendor to provide more support to partners, said Jared Tobiasen, business development manager at Arrow. RSA's secure token business accounts for half of its revenue, while its other products make up the rest and are growing.

"It's a complex security line and that means it requires us to get as much technical assistance as partners can get," Tobiasen said. "RSA spends a lot of time educating partners about threats instead of trying to shove product documentation down their throats; they know you have to have a larger conversation about security."

NEXT: One Partner Sees Room For Improvement

A technical expert at an RSA partner who declined to be named told CRN that the company has been pushing a lot of training and marketing through its distributors. The systems integrator turned to RSA enVision for a security information event management alternative when Cisco Systems discontinued its monitoring analysis and response system appliance line. He said he wished more vendors fully embraced the channel using Cisco's model, which drives the vast majority of its sales through the channel with little conflict.

"They're definitely making a big push to enhance the channel," he said of RSA, adding that there is room for improvement. "Their commercial team is very dedicated to the channel, but one bad move by the enterprise team that pushes the partner out erases the commercial team's improvements."