Symantec Makes SaaS Strategic

I’ve just returned from my fourth trip to Las Vegas in four months where I spent three days attending my second annual Symantec Vision user conference and worldwide industry analyst briefing. The event offered a number of important insights regarding the state of the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), as well as the managed services market.

I’ve stated in this blog numerous times, we are entering a pivotal new stage in the evolution of the SaaS market in which IT professionals are starting to view on-demand services as a powerful means of addressing many of their age-old management challenges, rather than a threat to their operations.

The Symantec executives who spoke at the conference and shared their candid views with me during the event confirmed my perspective by reporting that they are seeing rising receptivity toward SaaS ‘out-tasking’ alternatives to traditional management products among the company’s existing IT customers, as well as prospects of all sizes.

They suggested that this change in the IT department’s attitude is being driving by a number of trends,

  • Escalating complexity due to the proliferation of new technologies and business challenges.
  • Ecological concerns, escalating energy costs, and ‘green’ initiatives.
  • Consumerization of IT as the result of end-users introducing their own technology devices into the corporate environment.

Generational changes among new employees demanding a wide array of Web 2.0 and social networking tools to perform their jobs.

The latter two trends are blurring the lines between the corporate and consumer worlds. Symantec’s prominence and brand equity in both worlds gives it a competitive advantage addressing the convergence of these two IT environments.

Symantec first started to talk about its SaaS intentions in 2006 and rolled out its initial SaaS solution aimed at online backup and storage services under the Symantec Protection Network brand name in 2007. However, the company encountered a series of internal operational problems dealing with service provisioning issues and external challenges responding to channel conflict concerns that slowed the rollout process.

Despite the bumpy start, Symantec’s resolve to deliver a full portfolio of SaaS solutions was made clear throughout this week’s conference. The first indication was during the kickoff keynote address by John Thompson, Symantec’s Chairman/CEO, who alluded to the company’s SaaS initiatives in his opening remarks.

The seriousness of Symantec’s focus on SaaS was even more strongly stated during an analyst briefing by the company’s new Chief Strategy Officer, Greg Hughes. Hughes previously ran Symantec’s service business, including everything from support and professional services to SaaS and managed services.

Hughes admitted that his service background has shaped his views regarding Symantec’s future direction. As a result, he revealed that the company’s top three emerging market priorities and new incubator focus areas are SaaS, cloud computing and virtualization. The company views SaaS as business oriented on-demand solutions and cloud computing as its consumer oriented services. Although I see this as an artificial distinction, the heavy emphasis on the overall development of on-demand solutions is the most important message.

The SaaS theme even permeates Symantec’s virtualization strategy. An example is the company’s new SaaS oriented Veritas Storage and Availability Management Operations Service aimed at large-scale enterprises. This service automates numerous virtualization management tasks and provides a web-based repository of management best practices to service subscribers. Over 1000 customers have participated in the Beta version of the service, creating a massive ‘ecosystem effect’ via social networking model.

Symantec isn’t planning to abandon its traditional, packaged product business, but is beginning to formulate a strategy for building an integrated set of complementary on-premise and on-demand solutions across all of its IT management competency areas and product families to satisfy the diversity of customer needs.

Demonstrating this point, SaaS was a part of every presentation during the analyst briefing.

Enrique Salem, Symantec’s new Chief Operating Officer (COO), also referred to SaaS as a ‘game changing’ trend during his brief talk with the analysts. He said that one of his goals is to simplify Symantec’s product/service portfolio to make it easier for customers to identify the right solution to meet their IT/business and make it easier for Symantec and its channel partners to sell these solutions.

Part of this effort includes an internal reorganization to consolidate related products and services into integrated business units. For instance, the company has merged its NetBackup and Backup Exec product teams, and integrated their capabilities. Symantec has also aligned these product groups with the company’s SaaS Symantec Protection Network (SPN) SaaS platform.

Enrique also stated that Symantec is now measuring its success on three criteria, including Net Promoter Scorecards based on customer loyalty. This customer satisfaction metric is now a key variable in employee compensation and recognizes that offering SaaS solutions is essential to enhancing the customer experience and to Symantec’s long-term success.

The company is also making acquisitions to fortify its SaaS capabilities. It announced the acquisition of SwapDrive which gives it added storage service resources which have been used to power Dell’s storage services.

The company executives I met with on a one-on-one basis said they are not only gratified with the positive response their new SaaS solutions have received from customers, but are also pleased with the dramatic change in attitude among Symantec’s product management and sales teams toward the company’s SaaS strategies. They admitted that a year ago, these internal groups viewed Symantec’s SaaS initiatives as a cannibalistic threat to their traditional products and sales efforts. Today, they recognize that SaaS can produce net-new revenue opportunities and want to jump on board the bandwagon.

Symantec is not likely to be the first to market with its SaaS solutions because of the myriad of internal and external challenges it faces. However, it could become one of the most prominent players in the IT management segment of the SaaS market over the longhaul as customers seek strategic sources to meet their needs. Along the way Symantec will have to overcome the ‘me too’ look and feel of its SaaS solutions.

In addition to attacking the overt market opportunities in the consumer and corporate worlds, the executives I met with during this week’s conference also suggested a long-term vision of Symantec become a key SaaS platform supplier for a wide array of Internet service providers (ISPs), leading telecommunications carriers and business service vendors. For instance, the company is planning to rollout a new Symantec Secure Scalable Storage (S4) cloud-based platform later this year.

While all of these developments represent a strong endorsement of the SaaS movement, the user conference attendance was noticeably smaller than a year ago raising questions about Symantec’s overall standing in the market. The decline could be a reflection of the recessionary times. However, other analysts attending the conference reported that they had seen attendance growing at other vendor user conferences this year.

Nonetheless, Symantec’s SaaS strategies and solutions are an important indicator of the rapid evolution of the on-demand services market.

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