Trip Report From Symantec's VISION Conference

By Peter O'Neill (with some comments by colleague Jonathan Penn)

I spent a couple of days with Symantec executives this week in Las Vegas, attending their Worldwide Analyst Summit as well as day 1 of the VISION user group conference. My interest in Symantec is partly based on my research in the service management market - they bought Altiris a few years ago; and also because I watch their partner program work. Anyway, here are my highlights of the briefings.

Symantec has a very subdued style of presenting to analysts, but for users it was all show business

The presentations to us started very gently and modestly. Instead of egoistical VPs showing slides and speaking down to us from the stage, they led with a panel discussion moderated by their major entertainer, Steve Morton, VP of Product Marketing. That was much more pleasant to listen to and the required points were still all made. Also the tone of the questions was often very self-critical (“now Symantec is not renowned for having integrated its acquisitions well, how are we doing on that front now?”) - a good idea. I am sure it was easy to work out what critical questions were going to come and pre-empt those discussions.   

Now Steve is probably the reason they bought Altiris because the “keynote” session at VISION was a 90 minutes Tonight show with Steve performing more like Jay Leno than the man himself. Clearly very talented in this role, he was aptly supported by a band, videos and stage show. From his stage desk he hosted numerous guests on his couch in a humorous, chatty, and loosely-scripted format.  Again, all the points were made without boring anybody.

My Take: I particularly liked Steve’s sentence: “We will show no slides in the next 90 minutes. Powerpoint is for those people who have neither”. This style of presenting depends a lot on all the people (Symantec execs., partners, customers) being comfortable with the format  and I assume that they rehearsed this extensively. Many tech vendor executives are now comfortable walking and talking onstage these days (some with script, some without) but I suspect that the Tonight format will only work if you have someone in the marketing team capable of being a Jay Leno. Or you could hire an actor/TV presenter as the anchor but they would need diligent briefing.     

They have decided to be THE security company after all

Symantec has been a debating club about the central corporate strategy and value proposition for many years now: do they want to be a strategic IT supplier to enterprises and, if so, supplier of what. With Enrique Salem now settled in as the new CEO after his first year, it is clear that they will now reverted to their security roots. The tag line of “Take Control” is cleverly open enough to cover any of their products including information and storage management as well as systems management and so on. Also, it addresses both business and consumer buyers and even serves as a value statement targeted at CIOs.  

My Take: I think they are right. Symantec cannot be positioned like a Microsoft, Oracle or an IBM. They will be a strategic vendor to enterprises because of their total spend and because security itself is strategic. That is enough.

Symantec is finally addressing the partner services conflict but there are other ones

Another question asked during the panel on day 1 was about the work with partners: “Many of our partners have been complaining about Symantec’s services offerings; what are we doing about that”. I must admit, I had that question lined up myself for the Q&A and they took the wind right out of my sails. The answer was that Symantec is now winding down their services and will expect their partners to cover that business.  

My Take: We’ll see the proof of Symantec’s intentions in the next months, these changes will take time to bite. It may be that they have simply scaled back their services ambitions on one side but will continue with many others (especially managed security services and Security SaaS) that still create/foster conflict, both between Symantec and channel partners, and among channel partners themselves. I met with several partners on the evening of the second day and the news about the changes hadn’t gotten out to everybody yet (the partner meetings were also on day 1 but they were attended by the partner executives not the booth personnel) so they were still complaining to me - as they have been for over a year. It is a long overdue correction. Forrester also receives input from Symantec partners on another type of conflict, conflict within the channel because Symantec often has too many partners competing with each other. That is another issue that also needs correction.   

Altiris is still there but you need to look under the hood

There were two parallel breakout sessions on the analyst day: security was the title of one and information and storage management was the other. I was surprised to be scheduled to attend the security presentation and other systems/service management analysts said the same. The reason became clear during the presentation. Part of a good security strategy is to do systems management well.  So, the Altiris software was just about included in a demo as part of the deep dive into managing security.

My Take: We asked about Symantec’s systems management strategy during the Q&A with Enrique: Why do they not do more with it? He understood the question but basically confirmed that their decision is to subsume the topic within security management. Now during the customer event, Steve had several of his Altiris colleagues on stage for a 15 minute demo, a great job of catering to the several hundred Altiris users and dozens of partners at the conference. 

Symantec's products have been reconfigured more than enhanced in the last 12 months

Symantec has converted its extensive products portfolio to a collection of suites. This is because they reckon that a suite strategy will differentiate them from other vendors - especially in security, and because their customers want just one thing: simplicity. Symantec is far more active in the area of integration and management overlay (unifying policy management on the front end, unifying event management and auditing on the back end) than they are in the area of new product development. Watching the demos and listening to the product managers, I don’t think that very much else has been added to the products. And the holistic security demo given to the analysts actually highlighted how different everything still looks, so even integration is still work in progress.  Another element where nothing much has happened is Message Labs. When they acquired this company, nearly two years ago, the expectation set by Symantec was that this was their platform of choice for their new SaaS business and all products would be put onto the Message Labs platform. Well, there are now a couple of new security services but that’s all. The MessageLabs people still have business cards with messagelabs.com email addresses.

My Take.  Altiris now supports asset procurement and IT process automation in its latest release of Altiris is called ITSM v7 - aptly named because their competitors used the same title and version number 2-3 years ago when they released the same features. It is very much in catch up mode only.  Why Symantec is moving so slowly to expand its SaaS offering? Enrique told us that their business model does not need protecting (a common issue impeding software publishers moving to SaaS) because much of their software bookings are annuity models already. But of course middle managers like product management do have vested interests in maintaining their status quo so perhaps it is that. Or it is poor execution.  

Anyway, I’m enjoying our conversations, so keep your comments and emails coming.   

Always keeping you informed!

Peter