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.

[Related: Symantec Creates Advanced Threat Protection Alliance ]

Sponsored post

"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.


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."

NEXT: Delivering On Unified Information Security

For other partners, the program changes, due to take full effect in October, and the promised product development efforts, are too little too late. There have been many promises over the past several years and not enough consistency and forward momentum, said Alex Moss, managing partner at Chicago-based consultancy Conventus. Moss said Conventus will continue to sell Symantec in the near term, but acknowledged he's looking to make new partnerships with vendors that develop innovative security products.

"You can't keep promising everyone the world, coming up short and expecting everyone to stick around," Moss said. "Sooner or later you've got to have something positive to show."
The company's direct sales force is also going through a round of regional sales training events that include local partners, said John Emard, senior director of North American channel operations and programs at Symantec. The goal is to give Symantec sales executives the ability to work positively with key partners in their territory, Emard said. Sales executives that fail to comply with the company's principles establishing rules of engagement will have compensation withheld and could be terminated, he said.

"We are going to live a culture of partner centricity across the organization" Emard said. "There's no ambiguity around how seriously we are taking this."
Set to soar under Symantec's program are large systems integrators tied to the company's data management, storage, backup and archiving business, said Kurt Klein, CEO of Santa Clara, Calif.-based Computer Media Technologies. Klein said Computer Media Technologies is doing well selling Symantec NetBackup, its cloud-based disaster recovery product. He said the success of Symantec's channel program changes depend on how well they are executed.

"There has to be a real succinct message that the Symantec sales force work with expert partners," Klein said.


Symantec's Brown told financial analysts during the company's fourth-quarter earnings call that NetBackup was one of two bright spots for the company's 2014 fiscal year with revenue growth of 27 percent year over year. The other was mobile, which grew 77 percent year over year. In addition to heavily investing in the data storage business, Brown said data loss prevention, managed security services and business critical services also grew.

The two strategic priorities in Symantec's current fiscal year are unified information security and unified information management, said Stephen Gillett, executive vice president and chief operating officer. Gillett said the company would look to bridge the communication gap between specific products in its portfolio, creating a holistic platform for better visibility and faster and more significant protection.

For Brighton, Mich.-based Xcend Group, information security will be a significant growth area. The company also sells and manages Symantec’s Altiris IT management platform, but endpoint security is the challenge customers are trying to meet, said Ron Schoenherr, president and CEO of Xcend.

"Products like DLP and encryption will be hot growth areas," Schoenherr said. "We are bullish on the fact that the demand for those products will continue."

This article originally ran an as an exclusive on the CRN Tech News App for tablet.