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CEO: Symantec strategy to emphasize endpoint security, partnerships

Brandan Blevins, Assistant Site Editor

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- When it comes to delivering security results for enterprise customers, what works best: producing new products in areas outside its core competencies, or integrating with market leaders in those areas?

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None of these shiny new objects people are pushing will solve your problems.

Steve Bennett,
president and CEO, Symantec

In a Q&A keynote Tuesday at the 2013 Gartner Security and Risk Management Summit, Symantec CEO Steve Bennett answered that question by eschewing "shiny new offerings" in favor of delivering deeper and broader integration between the company's leading endpoint security products and those from other security providers -- hinting at the direction of updated product roadmaps that he said Big Yellow would release in the coming months.

After being appointed Symantec CEO 10 months ago, Bennett traveled around the world and talked with many of the company's customers and partners about their security concerns, he said. Those conversations led him to believe that "rearranging existing offerings" and focusing on core products would deliver better results.

Foreshadowing Symantec's future product strategy, Bennett admitted that the company hasn't delivered enough value to its customers and partners in recent years, but that the "Symantec 4.0" strategy announced in March 2013 has renewed the company's focus on its core products.

Bennett's appearance came as Symantec has faced increasing criticism for a splintered, unfocused product strategy, and more recently became the poster child for the increasing ineffectiveness of traditional endpoint antivirus products. In late January, in revealing it had been the victim of a China-based cyberattack campaign that had gone on undetected for at least four months, The New York Times said attackers had installed at least 45 pieces of custom malware on its network, only one of which was detected by the Symantec antimalware products it had installed on its computers.

However, Bennett said Symantec's endpoint products remain industry leading and the company is currently working with network security vendors to offer integrated product suites. Future integrated offerings will provide a better security experience with reduced installation and negotiation efforts, because customers will be able to work through Symantec to purchase a suite of integrated products from Symantec and its best-of-breed partners, he said.

Pressed on how Symantec will compete in the emerging cloud and mobility markets, Bennett stressed that the vendor already has an $800 million cloud business and that its product portfolio already includes "much more than antivirus," adding that more than half of the malware it detected in the previous year was not detected by signature-based products.

As for mobility, Symantec's acquisitions of vendors Odyssey Software and Nukona will deliver increased mobile device management capabilities, though he sees the MDM market focusing on mobile application control and the idea of separating employees' mobile devices between work and personal apps.

As he did with endpoint security, Bennett stated that no single vendor can offer an all-encompassing mobile security product portfolio. Instead, IT security vendors should cooperate to build a better ecosystem than attackers can, and focus less on competing for customers' security budgets. "There's no way, no matter what anyone tells you, that they can solve this problem by themselves." Bennett said. "None of these shiny new objects people are pushing will solve your problems."

Bennett also admitted that in the past, Symantec focused too much on its quarterly performance on Wall Street and never "asked our engineers to innovate." In the past, the company bought startups to foster product innovation, a strategy that achieved mixed results, he said -- though he critiqued other major security vendors of "outsourcing" innovation in the same manner.

As part of the refocused effort on clarifying Symantec's go-to-market strategy, customers can expect to see new multi-generation product roadmaps in 60 to 90 days, Bennett noted. Symantec will also increase research and development spending to more than 17% of revenue, up from its current level of 14% to 15%.

Customer support is another area of emphasis for Symantec. Bennett highlighted the importance of giving front-line employees -- those who "provide value to customers" -- all the tools they need to do their jobs. Symantec's entire support system is being retooled, and more than a dozen process leaders are being hired to manage that effort, he said.

Despite some turbulent times in recent years, the company's employees are optimistic about its future and the response from customers, on the whole, has been positive, Bennett said. The ball is now in the company's court.

"Talk is cheap," Bennett said. "Let's just execute and deliver and put points on the board."


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