Q&A: Intel Security's New Channel Chief Talks Strategy Plans And Driving Certainty For Partners

Hitting The Ground Running

After almost six months without a channel chief, Intel Security has named a new leader for its partner programs in Richard Steranka, the former worldwide channel chief at Avaya. Although Monday is only his first day on the job, Steranka already has big plans for the future of the Intel Security partner program and shared with CRN his strategies and goals for the company's channel. More important, he said, his appointment will bring long-term stability and certainty to alleviate partner concerns after a series of executive departures and program changes in recent months.

Take a look at what to expect as a partner from Intel Security, straight from the new leader himself.

What prompted the switch? Why Intel Security?

Most recently I was at Avaya, where I was running the worldwide partner organization. ... There, I really drove a very similar transformation to the channel [as] here at Intel over the past few years. ... All of that really came to an end, and I said, "Job done here," and time to really look for a new opportunity. That's where this great opportunity with Intel came up. ... I've looked at the security space as the place to be from a career perspective for a while. It's not just in high demand, it's not just high growth, but it's also ever-changing. I really get attracted to markets that are very dynamic, constantly evolving, and security is the top of that list. ... I think the base market footprint we've had for what has to be secured is just about to explode, and what a great place to be, and even more importantly, what a great company to be with, with Intel, who is really the only company who can do it end to end, and by that I mean going from chip to cloud.

What are the benefits of being an outsider to Intel Security? Do you think you bring more than someone internally promoted?

A couple of things. First of all, diversity and bringing people in from the outside is always additive. ... Products are products and you do have to, absolutely, in today's world, need to have a deep understanding of the technology, but the approach that various companies take to capturing those opportunities -- from go-to-market strategy development, to creating programs, what field engagement looks like -- are all quite varied. I've had the luxury of working with a lot of really great companies, and I'm able to pick and choose what works, what doesn't, and applying it and adding it to what's working in the current role here. I've always felt that, the one thing that I love doing is going from strategy to execution. I like to take the time to think through the opportunities that we have and really craft a strategy that's tightly aligned with our partner community.

With all the executive departures and new channel programs, there's been a lot of uncertainty in the Intel Security channel. What are you doing to drive certainty and clarity for partners?

Clearly, the commitment to the partner community is still there. I think the announcement, having a channel lead back in place, will bring some reassurance. I think it's getting out with the partner community, communicating with them as effectively and frequently as possible. I firmly believe in the approach that you have to be very transparent with partners, you have to let them know what you're thinking months, quarters, years in advance of where you're going. That gives them time to align with your vision. You also have to be consistent. The worst think I think vendors can do, and I haven't seen signs of it here, is just constantly changing strategy. ... That's the type of stuff that are elements of the relationship that partners are looking for. It ultimately boils down to trust.

It's early, but what are your strategy plans for the Intel Security channel programs?

What I see, at least from my experience, is that Intel has a very healthy ecosystem around Intel Security. Lisa [Matherly] and Gavin [Struthers] have made the changes that are necessary to take a lot of the complexity out of what was the channel program, that was the integration of multiple vendor programs into one. ... My first thoughts on it are to continue on with the great work that's been done. I don't see any specific requirement to do a mass overhaul, but as I mentioned earlier, the market is changing a lot, ... Clearly, what the market is looking for is more of an integrated solution. ... That is a perfect play for the partner community. As they evolve and begin to create their own offerings for their specific customers or vertically based or size of company, I think they have a tremendous market opportunity to capture this with Intel Security as their lead vendor and working with perhaps fewer other vendors to incorporate and deliver that solution.

A bunch of other security vendors are doing this platform approach. Why would partners choose Intel over Palo Alto Networks, Cisco or others?

When I made the decision to move on from Avaya, I looked at a few companies, some of them in the security space. ... There are so few companies that can actually do a platform play. A number will say they can do it, but having the true ability and the broad portfolio and being able to go right down to the chip is a unique attribute to Intel. I think what partners look for is, ultimately, where can they reap the greatest return on my investment. ... the strongest solution set ... the most market awareness ... the best profitability and support model, and [what] ultimately can allow me the flexibility and creativity to create my own unique niche in the market but still exist within a broader ecosystem? ... Intel Security has that in droves today: a very broad array of partners, a lot of adoption in terms of cloud and managed services already, which is very promising.

What sort of enablement are you planning for partners to counter the stiff competition out there?

I've been chatting a bit with [former channel chief] Gavin [Struthers] (pictured). ... He'll be very active during this as well. ... From what I've gathered to date, the enablement activities need to move beyond just sort of standard partner training, partner education, partner support, and actually start to go into some go-to-market enablement. Gavin has been running an initiative around big bets with partners, where we pick some very strategic companies that we need to work with -- those that really align around the vision of where Intel Security is going, and [are] willing to make that investment and traverse that path with us. What that would involve is incremental investments in those partners, not just from a capabilities perspective but also from a market-creation one.

What type of partners will you target with that enablement? MSPs? VARs? OEMs?

I think it's across the board. I think there isn't going to be one size fits all. There clearly is a big opportunity there for MSPs and more of a services model to take the complexity away [for SMBs]. I think a lot of VARs can make that transition [to managed services] successful, as has already been exhibited in the Intel Security partner program. Other large enterprises, more complex ones, are really going to need more consultants and integrators to do it with an IT organization, as opposed to for. I see the breadth in the channel right now as an asset, and there's no need to collapse it all into "everything has to be cloud" and "everything has to be a service."

What types of technologies are you hoping to drive for partners?

[Internet of Things] and alongside that, ... the integration that's happening in everything from the transportation industry, to utilities, manufacturing -- the list goes on and on. ... That just opens up a whole slew of different threats, and the way to address those is, really, you've got to get into other operational technologies that have pretty much been on the sidelines in terms of security threats. I think the core technologies that the Intel Security folks have, I'm going to be learning more about them and how the whole Security Connected platform operates and how partners both position it and implement it. But, clearly, what I see is going after market opportunities where that technology, whether it's SIEM or IDAS or endpoint, how those could be applied to the market opportunities out there.

What do you see as the balance between the consumer and enterprise side of Intel Security?

That I'm still coming to grips with, in terms of understanding the whole breakdown of the business. Clearly, on the consumer side, endpoint protection is a big part of the business, from my understanding, and will continue to be. I think that's actually an asset from an enterprise perspective. With the technology being prolific down in the endpoint, it makes it easier, obviously, for enterprises to adopt a more holistic security approach. I wouldn’t say specifically that the large enterprise seems to be where the strength is, what I've gathered is, there is a lot of opportunity in the SMB market that may not have been fully captured. That is an area that I have a lot of deep experience in, having run organizations at Cisco several times through my 19 years there.