In this edition of SearchSecurityChannel.com’s Patrolling the Channel podcast, we went on-site to PC-Plus Technologies Inc., a Massachusetts based security solution provider and managed services provider.
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Greg Abrams, vice president and chief technology officer of PC-Plus Technologies, discussed how his company helps customers tackle IT security challenges. Abrams talked about the security challenges his company faced last year, as well as his security plans for the next few years. Abrams also discussed the endpoint security vendors he considered, why he chose the one he did, and how he handles situations where vendor support may not be up to par. Finally, we delved into PC-Plus’ use of events to generate exposure and potentially attract new customers for the business.
PC-Plus Technologies has 45 employees and 600 active customers, with a large number of those customers in the health care industry. Approximately 20% of its revenues come from security, as PC-Plus provides endpoint security and gateway appliances. PC-Plus partners with Sophos Inc., Barracuda Networks Inc., Astaro Corp. and Cisco Systems Inc.
Read the highlights of our conversation below, or listen to the entire podcast.
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What are the common security problems your customers are facing today?
Abrams: IT security challenges have changed over the past few years. The concerns of the end users are still the same – avoiding getting a virus on their PC. But for CIO and CTO executives, their concern is data leakage.That’s when I hear things I wasn’t hearing in the past, such as how to protect employees from emailing out spreadsheets of customers information. We’re hearing a lot more about security measures being put in place to stop information from leaving, rather than stopping bad things from coming in.
What was the biggest customer security difficulty you faced last year? How did you get through it?
Abrams: There was a virus infection that took out one of our customers for two to three days, while we recovered all their information and got them back on track. We had recommended they make a change to their antivirus solution and they chose not to, and they were caught with a pretty nasty worm.
Can you tell us about a customer security situation that you consider your most important success?
Abrams: All of my customer security situations, especially where we’re using email encryption devices, are successes. Anytime I can get a forced means of compliance out there, where I can restrict information from leaving a company, that is sensitive and could cost them thousands of dollars in fines, I consider a huge success. Any time I’ve sold an email encryption appliance and put in a forced compliance policy, that’s a huge success. And we have over a dozen of them out at customers in the field now.
Do you feel supported by your security vendors? How do you overcome the times when you may not receive the vendor support you’d like?
Abrams: For the most part, we try to choose vendors based on their support organization and their products. In the past we’ve found fantastic products but chose not to recommend them to our customers because they don’t have the support organization that we need behind them.
Events are fantastic for not only generating new business but also refreshing our customers, getting them in to see what’s new and why it might be a good idea for them to invest in new technologies.
If you look at our portfolio of offerings, we tend to sell and support the strongest solutions that have the strongest support from their own manufacturers. Sophos is our primary endpoint vendor, and we chose them from a pool of six different endpoint security vendors. We made our decision based on not only the product, but the responsiveness of the support organization and the responsiveness of the company to our request to become a reseller. There were companies that didn’t even send a resource to talk to us.
We were the number three Symantec antivirus partner in New England at one point, so we had a lot of buying power. We were around $400,000-$500,000 per year in antivirus sales, so there was a decent amount of money there that I thought almost any vendor would want. But we were actually surprised at the lack of response from some of the software vendors; however, others were great. We also test them all. When they say, “If you call our support, you’ll get somebody on the phone in less than two minutes,”, as soon as they leave we pick up the phone to see if we get someone in less than two minutes. Sophos was the one that was able to fulfill that.
That said, any support organization is always going to fall down sometimes. So that comes back to the relationship with the company. Strategically you want to choose a partner that is going to be there for you not just from the support side, but from the management side, where you will have access to people if something goes wrong.
Let’s talk about using events to generate exposure and business for your company.
Abrams: We have one major event every year, in the fall. It’s our technology fair. We create a mini vendor technology expo. Back in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, people used to be able to get on a plane and go to Interop or other shows. When IT budgets fell down, that became a lot more restrictive. We decided if nobody is getting budget to go to a show, let’s bring the show to them. Typically we bring in HP, IBM, Lenovo, Sophos, Astaro, and some of our local telecom partners and we throw a big party and technology event. Those events are just fantastic for not only generating new business, but also refreshing our customers, getting them in to see what’s new and why it might be a good idea for them to invest in new technologies.
We start around 2:00 in the afternoon and run until 8:00 at night, and we offer some sort of entertainment at the end, such as a comedy show or a live band to create a fun environment. We use marketing development funds from every vendor for that show. The typical vendor fee is between $750 and $1,500 for the event.
What are your hopes for your business in the next three years?
Any time I’ve sold an email
appliance and put in a forced compliance policy, that’s a huge success.
Abrams: We’ve been in the process of doing a lot of management steering for the business in the last 6-8 months. I think the whole industry is changing. In particular, the box movers -- the CDW’s of the world. Over the last 4-5 years they’ve made it very difficult on the smaller resellers like us. They’ve taken a lot of margin out of delivering product to the customer. So we are focusing on differentiation and on our brand recognition.
We’re differentiating ourselves from the competition as being the service provider who’s really here for our customer, looking out for the customers’ best interest. Sometimes that includes having the difficult conversation with them that we are not going to sell them what they want; we’re going to sell them what they need.