Symantec channel execs address past, future partner concerns

After struggling with licensing issues following its acquisition of Veritas, and announcing that it would move aggressively into the Software as a Service (SaaS) market, Symantec Corp. is entering 2008 with a raft of new acquisitions, potential new products, and lots of questions from its channel partners.

SearchITChannel.com spoke this week with two of the company's top channel executives to review Symantec partner issues in 2007 and give a glimpse into 2008. Here's what Julie Parrish, global channel vice president, and Randy Cochran, North American channel vice president, had to say.

A lot of Symantec partners are unsure about what the future holds for them, given Symantec's emphasis on Software as a Service. How will Symantec make partners an important part of their SaaS initiative?
"Our intent is to sell Software as a Service through our partners. There will always be a requirement for our partners to find those customers and create that demand. It's for our small and midsized market. We don't have a direct presence there, so our partners are going to have to have a tremendous role." A lot of Symantec partners are unsure about what the future holds for them, given Symantec's emphasis on Software as a Service. How will Symantec make partners an important part of their SaaS initiative?
"The target market is the SMB space, the smaller companies where their IT staff is the VAR community. Symantec has no desire to go out and attack that market. We're working with our advisory committee, which is nothing but partners, to drive that strategy."

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More and more vendors are getting into the security market, either through mergers and acquisitions or developing their own solutions. These are traditionally nonsecurity vendors. How will Symantec help partners fend off this increased competition?
"First and foremost, it's educating and equipping the partner base with the right information. As a partner selling Symantec, you have one heck of a product line. If you're just coming out with antivirus, you're about seven years behind." What new products and services can Symantec partners look forward to offering right around the corner in 2008?
"We can't tell you that!" What new products and services can Symantec partners look forward to offering right around the corner in 2008?
"Symantec Protection Network (the SaaS platform) is out early in the year. The Vontu acquisition, you'll see that come into the channel in the not-too-distant future. And a sleeper technology that hasn't gotten a lot of media attention this year is our Database Security appliance."

Parrish and Cochran also spoke about the problems that Symantec partners faced with the company's new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system over the past year. The ordeal began in November 2006, when Symantec merged its channel program with that of Veritas. (Symantec had acquired Veritas in 2005.) Symantec partners found the ERP system particularly confusing and time-consuming, and their complaints flooded Symantec's support lines -- making it harder to get solutions to their problems.

"We found ourselves in pretty deep hot water with our partners and customers," Parrish said.

Since then, Symantec has reduced the steps required for partners to activate and renew licenses, added more support staff and upgraded its call center phone system. The company also surveys partners quarterly, and high-ranking executives -- including CEO John Thompson -- call partners to follow up with them. Partner satisfaction increased by 200% after the first round of surveys, 40% after the following surveys and another 90% after the most recent round, Parrish said.

Symantec is also continuing to improve its channel, Cochran said.

"We're not done," he said. "We'll never be done."

New areas of focus include streamlining the renewal process for volume distributors, making it easier to bring different products together in the same billing cycle and studying best practices from competitors and other similarly sized companies, Cochran added.

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