Symantec fine-tuning of vendor TIPP program consistent with recent focus on go-to-market enhancements

Symantec Canada country manager Ajay Sood discusses enhancements to Symantec’s strategic partner program, their relation to changes made in their channel go-to-market, and how it all relates to Symantec’s long-standing attempt to revitalize itself.

Ajay Sood, Vice-President and General Manager for Symantec Canada

Cybersecurity vendor Symantec has made enhancements to their Technology Integration Partner Program [TIPP] designed to enhance further the way other vendors interact with them and enhance their mutual value proposition. It’s consistent with multiple changes Symantec has made in the last two years to improve go-to-market mechanisms with both strategic and reseller partners – which includes the original launch of TIPP last year. It also reflects an admitted major change from the way things used to be done.

“These enhancements are specific to our ICDx platform for integrated cyber defense, and were preliminarily launched at RSA in the spring,” said Ajay Sood, Vice-President and General Manager for Symantec Canada. “What it is about is building a threat intelligence around the world through an open architecture, and improving our technology partnerships so they can integrate with our platform.” The enhancements make it easier for TIPP partners to integrate with Symantec.

The TIPP program itself is a new one, created under the current Symantec leadership in June 2017, which implemented what the company stressed was a new philosophy of working with partners – in this case vendor strategic partners.

“The way our strategic program used to work was that we had our products, and we invited friends and codevelopers to integrate with those products using our formats,” Sood said. “One of the things we have tried to promote with the TIPP initiative is codevelopment with our partners using standards-based integration formats like STIX and TAXII, rather than just integrating with us.”

Sood stressed that this doesn’t just give Symantec better integrations, but that it gives them these integrations in spaces where they have not traditionally been strong.

“Companies once said that if you buy all our stuff, you will have a platform,” he said. “We want to ensure that when the customer picks up Symantec product that it will not only co-exist with other vendors’ stuff, but will also be accretive. We used to have API integrations with other security vendors, and we still do. In security we do everything but firewalls and SIEMs, so aligning with those who do those things is an obvious integration point. But now we also have deep APIs into the way cloud works. That’s the biggest difference in the way that TIPP works. It allows customers to embrace the cloud with the knowledge that they will meet privacy and audit requirements. We enable purchase of those hyperscale data environments. We have also been able to augment our security boutique partners by helping them do cloud transitions and deal with partners who haven’t sold security at all, so we are able to add value on both sides of the equation.”

These more accretive relationships means stronger go-to-market relationships as well.

“The goal with many of these technology partnerships is to make them go-to-market partnerships too,” Sood said. “Meet In The Channel is good, but you still have to choose what channel. We now approach vendors like Splunk, AWS and Microsoft directly and we market alongside them. We attend their kickoffs, participate in their sales meetings and have them in ours as well.”

Sood said this has major positive implications for their reseller channel.

“It means that the channel can bring more accretive solutions – alongside those of companies like Splunk, Radware, AWS, Microsoft and VMware,” he said. “It also means that we are now attracting partners of those companies. That’s something that we haven’t addressed before. In the past, we worked with security resellers. Now, in addition, we are working more with others like AWS cloud partners and Azure partners. I find myself in meetings with VMware. This is a seismic shift.”

All of this is designed with the fundamental goal of making sure that Symantec stays relevant to the market, something that the vendor has been very cognizant has been at risk for years. Symantec rose to market leadership as a first mover with the rise of Microsoft, realizing that security was not Microsoft’s core expertise and that there was a market for people who could provide focused value to enhance their solutions. The company has seen much change since then, and has also seen other tech contemporaries from that period fall by the wayside.

Symantec’s long growth period under John Thompson led to a series of short-lived leadership regimes, all of whom put forward major plans to rejuvenate Symantec, none of which came to fruition. Thompson’s successor, Enique Salem, was dismissed in 2012, nothwithstanding a strategic review to revitalize the company. Steve Bennett, his replacement, frankly admitted to customers at Symantec’s 2012 customer show that while Symantec was still a market leader, it hadn’t been a technology leader in anything for years, and proposed changes to address that. Still, two years later, he was out the door as well. Mike Brown, his replacement, whose major achievement was the divestiture of Veritas, also lasted two years before receiving his pink slip. The new leadership team, CEO Greg Clark and President and COO Mike Fey, both came to Symantec when it acquired Blue Coat in 2016. The strategic partnering changes were one of the cornerstones of their new approach to reinventing Symantec.

There have been major changes in channel policy as well, stemming from the same objectives.

Sood, who was Canadian country manager at FireEye before moving to Symantec in 2016, after the Blue Coat team had taken over. At that time, Symantec Canada had essentially been gutted, with the leadership team in Canada having moved to Veritas with the split, and the Canadian operations being badly understaffed.

“I like to avoid saying I was brought in to right the ship in Canada, but they made a point of bringing in new people,” Sood said. “They had made lock stock management changes from the top down, and brought in the new people to shepherd the company. The people running the company now went after startup guys, and treated the company like a very well funded startup.”

Symantec historically in Canada had had a hybrid go-to-market model, with most business going through channel partners, but with a significant direct presence in the enterprise, and a tendency to channel conflict issues.

“We had been awful historically in the channel,” Sood stated. “I believe in a  100 per cent channel led policy. I got rid of the direct business in Canada and moved everything over to the channel. Two years ago, we were also a volume channel, but my aim was also to get to a value channel model. I believe staunchly in doing more business with les partners. You don’t want the channel to be diluted. My goal with the channel is to have strategic partnerships that we nurture.”

Almost two years into his tenure with Symantec, Sood described the company as now being in a good place, not a great place. The company still faces challenges. A week ago, they announced quarterly revenues that were down slightly from the year-ago quarter, and that they would be laying off 8 per cent of the company. Still, Sood thinks they have made great strides in remaking their strategy to remain relevant.

“We have written a book that is launching October 2, and are publishing it under the auspices of the Canadian Leadership Exchange [CLX] Forum,” he stated. It is a collection of contributed pieces and we have a chapter on vendor churn, which discusses how vendors go from relevance to obsolescence. Something like TIPP is designed to help you remain relevant longer. You don’t want to be a vendor with a single set of integrations that become not relevant.”