Specialized channels is the mainstay of security game: Adel Eid, Sophos

Specialized channels is the mainstay of security game: Adel Eid, Sophos

Simplification, specialisation and scale are fundamental pillars accelerating our channel blueprint, says Adel Eid, APJ Channel Chief at Sophos.

Sophos is emphasizing on its security solutions across network and end point through its ‘synchronized security’ offering for modern companies. With channel ecosystem undergoing a massive change in the digital era, ChannelWorld spoke at length with Adel Eid, Channel Sales Director, Asia Pacific and Japan, Sophos on his India visit. Edited Excerpts:

You joined Sophos as APJ Channel Chief around ten months back. What have been the key changes you implemented and what’s the outcome?

Since I joined Sophos, we are enforcing our channel partner strategy internally. With channels at the heart of Sophos strategy, we always aim to excel in our channel program. Simplification, specialisation and scale are the fundamental pillars that I have been working with my team in my first year at Sophos. We realize the need of simplification to make it easier for our partners to understand Sophos’ channel program and its benefits, leveraging the tools and the systems across Asia Pacific. We are relaunching the partner program this year after revisiting it and thereby adding more benefits to it.

Last year we had a generic certification program for partners to become Sophos self-certified or Sophos engineer-certified or the highest level as an architect certified. There was no differentiation in terms of reach and the specialisation for certified partners product-wise. Sophos has a diverse and broad portfolio including endpoint, central specialization, encryption specialisation, mobility specialisation and the list goes on. This year, it has been announced internally a month ago that we are breaking down the specialisation or certification program to the project level and the product level. We will take it externally to the market soon.

Partners will be certified more towards their specialisation or their area of interest whether it’s endpoint, UTM firewall or encryption or any other specialisation which we didn’t have last year.

A partner can be self, engineer or architect level based on the product-specific domain. Hence they can be architect Endpoint, architect central, architect UTM or firewall and so on. They can go into the granularity of specialisation which will help us accelerate the end goal of synchronized security (combined expertise of Endpoint and Firewall) and they deliver as premium solution to the end customer.

Number three around scale is to make life easier for partners to drive new business of Sophos. The channel base especially in countries like India is a very strong legacy UTM channel of Cyberoam (Sophos acquired Cyberoam in 2015) that brings expertise in UTM and Firewall but not from endpoint side. I would like to take legacy channel to open a niche opportunity of endpoint and scale that business and hence the market share.
Revamping the partner program or launching a new one is a given for every technology vendor. But it’s all about partner profitability. Where is the big money for partners?

I believe Sophos drives that program effectively as we are identifying the partners to differentiate themselves to drive more revenue and more profitability. We are obviously working on partner specialisation but we are also adding some benefits to the program. There will be financial incentives for those partners especially with professional services for partners. We can start to build an ecosystem of specialized partners and we can drive more profitability behind that.

The new consumption MSP model is turning out to be very profitable model for partners. MSP program offers unique proposition but unfortunately we don’t leverage it much in countries like India. We have cloud service provider program that’s available to partners to get good incentives from Sophos.

How difficult has it been to convince channel partners to move from a traditional on-prem hardware-centric firewall model to newer models of MSP and CSP?

It has been difficult, to be honest.  Sophos has a predominant UTM / firewall legacy channel partner community. In countries where we did not have a strong endpoint story, it has been an obvious challenge.

The perception about cloud and the associated challenges has to be overcome both internally from Sophos and externally with partner community. We are investing in regions mature in cloud and the uptake of Sophos MSP business has been rapid. But perhaps there is misconception about MSP in some geographies. Approximately ten percent of Sophos channel base is looking at MSP model, which is relatively low number. And hence more knowledge transfer is required to convince our partners to look at this business model for their customers.

Every region has its specific opportunities and existing challenges. From the bigger picture worldwide, we have tripled the number of partners selling MSP driven by America market. It has a multiplier effect like three times the number of partners, four times the number of customers attached to the partner base, and five times the number of licenses through that partner base. MSP is accelerating extremely rapidly. Australia as cloud-driven or cloud-ready has been the fastest take up in APJ region. MSP model is growing in Japan, Singapore, and Hong Kong too. India is definitely one of the biggest opportunity for Sophos from cloud perspective into the next fiscal.

Sophos had UTM brand and then it acquired firewall vendors Astaro and Cyberoam in quick succession few years ago. Are all UTM brands now consolidated with a single GTM?

The company strategy has been to consolidate our interest across our two or three versions or I can say two or three technology of UTM or Firewall into one strong strategy for Sophos. We have made it clear to our partner community about the plan to drive new XG platform on Sophos firewall. XG platform is the combination of Cyberoam legacy and other technology we had. We are definitely pushing hard to move towards that strategy. We are not changing our course of action; we are only making the channel roadmap less confusing and more profitable for the partners to drive business in the growing UTM and firewall market.

Do you expect sales of hardware UTM appliances to fizzle out especially for larger enterprises as they move to cloud, and also cloud makes sense for SMBs as they don’t have much of IT infra?

We see interest from customers to move towards a cloud-managed environment and an opex model. There is great opportunity for partners to manage that environment through a cloud console and offer a complete subscription model and provisioning system. They can easily provision licenses to any customer they want without Sophos intervention. It’s completely self-sufficient model and we charge those customers opting for central management or console. Cloud model is a great differentiation for the channels with increased demand from customers.

Many customers in the SMB space will opt for cloud or MSP model because they lack resources and because security moves very fast, they can’t handle different vendors and the security solution across different specializations. SMBs are looking for an end-to-end vendor that offers solutions through a cloud management console managed by a partner. For enterprise customers, it depends on which element of the enterprise security offering they want to drive as a priority. Whether it’s UTM and firewall over access, IAM is a priority over endpoint or encryption is a focus, and hence it depends what they are trying to drive as a security strategy.

I believe there is still place for hardware UTM and firewall in the market and it’s ironic with many firewall companies with multiple hardware offerings today. But the customers are looking for better visibility and better control in the firewall. If they get convinced of those features, then replacement opportunity for hardware firewall will take time. Else they may move to virtual solution or managed services model over time

The attach ratio of network and endpoint for a security company isn’t high as they expect, because many organizations still deploy ‘best of breed’ solutions than the ‘throat to choke’ approach. How will Sophos accelerate its big bet on synchronized security?

My personal opinion is that the enterprise segment customer has the luxury to look at ‘best of breed’ solutions across their fragmented security posture. It’s not easy to integrate all these vendors in a seamless manner and manage properly to keep a secure environment. There will be consolidation around rationalization of vendors along the way to offer a single solution.

When I interacted with customers in my previous career roles they often claimed that it’s too difficult to administer an environment with dozens of security vendors to have that ‘end-to-end’ solution. There is definite value proposition for Sophos. May be not across entire enterprise segment immediately, but with SMB and what we call pragmatic customers to look at end-to-end vendor solution that is easy to implement and secure enough. And I think Sophos fits right with its synchronized security approach.

Has the expectation list of CIOs and CISOs changed in the modern security world?

First is the competency level, the expertise around deploying Sophos solution that keeps CIOs and their companies out of trouble. Everybody is concerned about security by deploying security solutions whether it’s endpoint or firewall or identity management solution but there are new breaches every day. We need a partner community that has the expertise to make the right recommendation to that customer environment, suggest the right architecture design and implementation of Sophos solutions.

CIOs and CISOs want consumption model as type of deployment that means value for money for their needs. All partners should have broader offerings from on premise, cloud consumption model that might be a subscription-based or pay-as-you-go, virtual infrastructure using AWS as example.

Any top channel mantras for 2018 and beyond at APJ level? Do you believe Sophos Intercept X to emerge as an accelerator for your channels?

I would call out to all my partners to re-look at specialisation with Sophos. I want them to open themselves to the broad offerings. My suggestion to the channel partners would be to specialize and educate themselves to Sophos endpoint offering to Intercept X to synchronized security to offer the end-to-end solution maybe as a new consumption model to organizations. I am not saying they all have to embrace everything that we have; but it’s the right time for them to start differentiating, undergo that specialisation and drive that profitable opportunity with Sophos.

Sophos Intercept X has been the fastest growing product and the biggest success of Sophos history. Internally of course we have been benefitting from an environment very timely for us because of ransomware attacks. WannaCry and Petya definitely helped us. We were there with Intercept X which has seen phenomenal uptake for Sophos channel. We have also added the deep learning technology to it. Everybody thinks ransomware has slowed down, but there are lot of ransomware cases appearing again.

Lastly, how are Sophos and its channel ecosystem geared up to ensure peaceful nights to CIOs and CISOs in the evolving threat landscape?

The customers get a peaceful mind through the expertise of our channel addressing the customer’s pain-points and deploying solutions suited to their security posture. We are obviously ensuring a support structure and definitely backing our channel ecosystem with the specific solutions. We have to further strengthen our support system for that partner community. That is possible if we know the specialisation of the partner. That’s the biggest challenge we have as we don’t assume all the partners are specialized on every security technology. We need to work with those specialized channels to give more peace of mind to CIOs / CSOs and their companies.
Security made simple has been the mainstay of Sophos’ marketing or positioning. We make it simple for partners to deploy end-to-end security solutions and keep the customers safe. Everything we do—programs, business models, cloud management console—is around simplicity.

Adel’s Mantras for Channels in 2018

* Relook at product specialisation and open up to Sophos’ broad portfolio.
* Convince the customer on the advantages of Synchronized Security.
* Pitch the new consumption model of MSP / CSP as per customer need.
* Specialized partners will drive more business and enhanced profits.

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