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Symantec Woes Prove Technology Survival Is About Staying Relevant

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Depending on who you talk to, Symantec’s decision to oust CEO Steven Bennett was either a step towards wisdom or a miserably bad move. Those in the security field believe Bennett was taking the company in the wrong direction by focusing on cutting costs and increasing margins. Investors lauded his efforts at creating a solid financial plan for the company. But when it comes to information security, financial pundits might not be the right people to listen to. Focusing on financial fundamentals in a space that requires technology innovation to remain relevant could be a recipe for disaster.

The Investor’s Point of View

True, boards listen to investors. But investors are too far removed from the information security market to really understand the changes taking place. This is just what happens when companies get too big. Stock performance begins to hold greater sway over company performance, moving the focus towards financials. In this case, Symantec forgot that success came from information security innovation, not financial security fundamentals.

Poorly Executed Innovation Efforts

To be fair, Bennett did look to cut costs, as well as spur innovation. His restructuring brought cost savings of $133 million to the company. He brought on five new executives aimed at increasing innovation. Unfortunately, only one of those appointed had the background one would want in a failing information security company. The new executives’ backgrounds may sound impressive at first – HP, Microsoft, IMBD.com, and Google – but those are huge corporate enterprises that have lost (or are losing, in the case of Google) their entrepreneurial spirits.

The most sensible hire was CSO Julie Talbot-Hubbard, former chief information security officer from Ohio State University. She brought excellent knowledge with her from the trenches, but Symantec didn’t leverage that information. The company would have been wise to use her expertise in more areas than just “maintaining our information security, business resiliency and physical security programs to ensure that our resources, infrastructure and assets are properly protected – with our products,” as Symantec put it. She would have been an ideal asset in product development for Symantec.

Big Ships Are Hard to Steer

Besides failing to see the type of leadership needed, Symantec failed to dig deep in seeking innovation. We saw no restructuring of company culture. Symantec remained a big, hard-to-steer ship, with little room for market innovation. Under Bennet, the company began losing sales of its flagship Norton Security product, an unacceptable outcome for the company.

For now, the company is under the direction of Michael Brown while seeking Bennett’s replacement. Brown came to Symantec through its merger with storage software company Veritas. Previously, he served as CEO of Quantum Corporation, a data backup and recovery firm. Interestingly, the interim CEO might be the best man to have at the helm. He has worked for two innovative technology companies and should understand what it means to be agile in a changing marketplace. And the security market today is vastly different from ten years ago.

Symantec Needs to Refocus

Symantec’s over-reliance on endpoint security through products like Norton Security has been hurtful. Much cheaper products, often offered at no charge, make it impossible to compete using a paid product in this space. At a time when customers no longer want to pay for internet security, he focused on improving the customer experience. He ended up with fewer customers to show excellent service to.

Data storage is also coming down in price substantially, yet Symantec remains doggedly focused on storage software. And as far as mobile security, Symantec missed the boat entirely. The company never came around to leveraging this space, which is now going the way of desktop security. Instead of focusing on endpoint solutions, Symantec needs to follow the path of innovation in creating proactive security solutions that enhance its flagship security products by offering new solutions for intrusion detection and prevention.

The only way for Symantec to do this now is to start behaving like early Google. Begin acquiring firms on the cutting edge of information security. Let data storage be data storage. By refocusing on its core brand relevancy and bringing innovative startups onboard to create new solutions to the ever-changing landscape of information security, Symantec may have a chance at survival. As it stands, endpoint solutions are no longer relevant in today’s market. No amount of retooling or restructuring can fix its essential lack of solutions for the evolving needs of its customers.

It’s quite possible that Symantec is too heavily invested in solutions that worked 10 years ago. The company used innovation to find success and then became too comfortable at the top. Businesses of all sizes can learn a lesson from Symantec about staying relevant by staying focused on innovation. As the market changes, so must the company’s strategy. Had the company kept up with changes in the information security market, there might have been an easier and more promising future ahead.

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