Websense Names New Channel Chief, Steps Up Services, Support

Websense has established a professional services arm to deal with support issues, and named an executive from the private equity firm that acquired it in 2013 to oversee its global channel operations.

The Austin, Texas-based company appointed John Starr as its new vice president of global sales channels and professional services. Starr previously served as director of strategic solutions at Vista Equity Partners, the firm that paid more than $900 million for the security company in 2013. He was previously at IBM, where he was on a team overseeing corporate strategy and sales effectiveness.

Starr replaces Shawn Pearson, an EMC veteran who was promoted to the position last summer. Pearson has left the company to pursue his own interests, a Websense spokesperson said.

[Related: Websense CEO: Bush-League Partners Were Hurting Our Channel Strategy]

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Websense has been making a series of internal changes to improve engagements with customers following a growing number of implementation issues that have caused customers to drop it in favor of competitor products. The company declined to say how many customers were frustrated with Websense and fled to competitors.

Starr, who has been at Websense for more than a year, said he created a response team, or professional services arm, to rapidly address customer concerns and prevent turnover. Customer retention is tied to being able to address issues quickly and, Starr said, work with customers who "don't have a trusting relationship with a local reseller."

"We've got a professional services team in place but we're remaining dedicated to our channel strategy," Starr told CRN in an interview.

Websense has fallen behind competitors in the mature market for data loss prevention technology, which includes rivals Symantec, Dell-owned Credant Technologies, Intel Security (formerly McAfee), RSA, The Security Division of EMC and Digital Guardian (formerly Verdasys). Industry analysts and solution providers told CRN that the company has struggled to address support issues in recent years. Company executives told CRN that they have been making gains against Symantec in the U.S. while Symantec addresses an internal reorganization as part of its breakup into two companies.

Traditional data loss prevention vendors have been busy modernizing their platforms to embrace the cloud-delivery model, said Tyler Shields, a senior analyst at Forrester Research. In addition to delivering their own platform, the security vendors need to support Office 365, SharePoint Online and Box, and other SaaS-based applications where corporate data may reside, Shields said.

"I think that might be one of the disruptive factors that Websense struggled to come to terms with," Shields told CRN. "Cloud has transformed a business' operations a lot faster than Websense or any other security vendor was able to adapt to Software-as-a-Service models."

Security gateways need to be properly scoped to handle the number of sessions, web browsers and other issues that are tailored to the specific customer environment, said Dan Thormodsgaard, vice president of solutions architecture at FishNet Security, a Websense partner. Thormodsgaard said that, despite management changes, Websense has remained channel-friendly.

"It can be an arduous process to deploy throughout the enterprise," Thormodsgaard said. "The sizing is absolutely critical depending on the capabilities they are going to deploy."

NEXT: Websense Launches New Version Of Triton Platform

Websense launched version 8 of its Triton platform this month, which combines its web security and data loss prevention capabilities with threat intelligence to detect attacks. The company's DLP engine is combined with its web and email security gateways. The company provides an option to deploy an appliance on-premises, or a hosted or hybrid deployment.

Websense drives full Triton APX deals through the channel with Certified Triton Integrator partners. The company is trying to get its customer base on its more modern platform. About 25 percent of the company's customer base still uses Websense's legacy gear, CEO John R. McCormack told CRN in an interview last summer.

Starr led an assessment over whether to invest heavily into skills development and certifications for partners, which came to the conclusion that the issues needed to be addressed much more quickly. To help bolster support and work with end customers more closely, Websense unveiled a marketplace in October designed to help capable customers purchase "QuickStart" implementation packages to rapidly deploy parts of its product suite with remote assistance.

As part of the changes, the company is relying on larger systems integrators, such as Accuvant, FishNet and Forsythe Technology, to deploy and configure the technology in larger, complex environments, according to Starr. Regional partners with strong skills in security and data protection also play a large role, he said.

In addition to growing the Websense Professional Services organization, Starr has been overseeing the company's strategic direction and the development of the Websense channel strategy to reward partners that can fully carry out deals, and deploy and properly configure the network security vendor's appliances in complex environments.

"Triton works exceptionally well at detecting advanced threats, but it has to be properly delivered, otherwise we lose the end customer," Starr said.