Symantec CEO To Skeptics: Don't Count Us Out

Symantec is just past the one-year point in its Symantec 4.0 overhaul and is readying new product road maps and showing how it plans to integrate the various point products in its portfolio, said CEO Steve Bennett in an interview with CRN. Sweeping internal changes last year impacted 90 percent of the company's sales force and prompted Bennett to warn financial investors that 2014 would be another major transition year.

"Our strategy for growth was just to keep buying stuff and not really add any value to the customers with these acquisitions," Bennett said. "We dug ourselves a bit of a hole last year making these changes and, because of the nature of bookings vs. billings, it takes awhile when we get our new bookings to convert that into revenue."

Bennett, who took the helm of Symantec 18 months ago, said the internal restructuring combined with a complete product strategy overhaul will get the company out of a rut in which it acquired security firms and then ran them as independent solutions. The company's channel strategy also was failing, as it let partners sell the entire portfolio, regardless of their niche, client base and geography, Bennett said.

"We are moving from 60,000 partners globally where everybody sells everything to a much more tiered structure based on partner capability, commitment to Symantec and aspirations for growth," he said. "This is a company that has tremendous assets but it is a big ship to turn, and the feedback we're getting from customers is that we're on the right track and we hope you're successful."

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Symantec took the wraps off some of its channel changes in November, revealing that it was turning over many of its direct-touch named accounts to its most coveted channel partners. The company has gone from 28 partner programs down to eight channels to market and four partner programs, Bennett said.

The company also is making multimillion-dollar investments into large systems integrators and regional VARs, funding head count and marketing activities with the goal of fueling business. Meanwhile, in the U.S., the company's sales force has been retrained and is out in the field and incented to drive sales through a list of 100 or so partners.

"The program is very focused on what is the right route to market or the right channel for all of our different offerings," Bennett said. "We're going to have much more of a thoughtful franchising program as opposed to everybody sells everything."

NEXT: New Product Road Maps


Industry analysts say they are watching Symantec closely as it rolls out product updates and unveils new road maps. The company plans to share these updates more broadly beginning with investors later this year, according to Bennett. The product revamp comes as longtime enterprise products executive Francis deSouza took his leave of the company Dec. 1.

Symantec's product integration strategy puts it a year or two behind archrival McAfee, which already has unveiled an integrated product portfolio that bridges endpoint security software with its networking gear and other products, said Peter Firstbrook, a research vice president at Gartner. In other segments of the security market, analysts said, competitors including Trend Micro, Sophos and Kaspersky Lab are making gains.

"The main thing [Symantec is] talking about is integration of their various components and their plan is solid, but the execution remains unproven," Firstbrook said. "We haven't seen results of the execution and anything that changes the way a company has done business for a long time has to be viewed with a bit of skepticism."

Some solution providers interviewed by CRN say they are skeptical as well of Symantec's new product approach, even though the company appears to be embracing the channel.

David Sockol, president and CEO of San Carlos, Calif.-based Emagined Security, said he and other partners were instructed on how to communicate Symantec's strategy changes to current and potential customers, but there are no clear answers when partners are pressed for more information.

"Details have been lacking and you can't effectively communicate a product strategy if you don't have many details about what it all means," Sockol said.

Bennett said the company shared some early product road-map details with partners at its Budapest EMEA partner event and received positive feedback. Symantec also hired a new chief technology officer, Amit Mital, a Microsoft veteran who most recently was corporate vice president for the company's Startup Business Group, where he was responsible for managing strategic product development. In addition, product teams now work directly for Bennett, making faster progress than ever before, Bennett added.

"We've never been that great with forward-looking product maps because that's not how we grew," he said. "We're saying we can leverage all of our technology to create solutions that win in the marketplace because we do a better job at solving our customer problems than everybody else ... and we admit we don't have the size and scale to do it all ourselves. We have to have close relationships with our partners where we work together to grow the pie that we split it in some fair manner."

Other solution providers are more positive about the company's changes.

Symantec is moving toward aligning its products with solving broader business problems rather than addressing one-off issues, said Alex Moss, managing partner of Chicago-based information security consultancy Conventus. Moss said Conventus, which works with large high-profile retailers and other enterprises, was founded because he and his team saw a lot of opportunity to fix what was broken with services. Conventus sells solutions, not point products, to solve inefficiencies and reduce risk, and Symantec historically hasn't had that model, Moss said.

"We're excited by Symantec's new approach because their strategic vision is now aligning with ours," Moss said. "I think the company recognizes that it needs to stop hawking software and start solving problems."

NEXT: Integrated Product Sets


Symantec is creating integrated product offerings around mobility, information security and information management. Ken Schneider, vice president of technology strategy in Symantec's Corporate Strategy Group, said the offerings will address customer compliance issues, critical systems protection, and security orchestration and workflow problems. In a recent interview with CRN, Schneider said the company doesn't want to be in the network security hardware business.

For mobility, the company is bridging its mobile device and mobile application management components together with the Altiris platform for client and IT management. At the information fabric layer, Symantec leverages its data loss prevention technology and its Data Insight to identify and fingerprint structured metadata and gain insight from unstructured data for threat intelligence and increase visibility, Schneider said. Meanwhile, a centralized cloud platform is being created and includes its Norton Zone file-sharing component as well as its O3 cloud security gateway.

Symantec also is focusing on important updates for its existing software, Bennett said, pointing to recent mobile security updates and a new release of its NetBackup platform and Backup Exec as signs of positive momentum. The company has bolstered its cloud-based storage, integrating NetBackup into the Cisco API architecture to support Cisco Unified Computing System blade servers. For the first time Symantec is listed in the reference design guide for Cisco's Application Centric Infrastructure, Bennett said.

The company's approach focuses on creating multitier, multilayer, integrated and automated product sets rather than a loosely defined set of security point solutions, he said.

"We understand our customers don't want to buy all these shiny new objects from one company; they want all these things to work together," Bennett said. "They're telling us they don’t need us to sell them every appliance in the kitchen, they need us to help them to get the whole kitchen working together."

Details on Symantec's product strategy continue to be pretty scant, said Andrew Plato, president of Anitian Enterprise Security, a Beaverton, Ore.-based security consultancy. Plato said the company is lacking some critical components to build a comprehensive suite.

"A fair amount of customers are drifting off to other providers or considering other providers because they don't feel like they have clarity from Symantec," Plato said. "I have to be skeptical when they talk about tighter integration because in the land of programming whenever you're trying to integrate disparate systems you end up getting spaghetti code that works and that, frankly, has been Symantec's problem all along."

Bennett said he understands much of the questioning around the broad strategy changes, but he called on skeptics not to count the company out. This is a comeback strategy and the team driving it is fully behind the changes, he said.

"This is a marathon and not a sprint," Bennett said. "With all the changes we are making, when the marathon is over we expect to be standing at the finish line smiling."