IN THE HOT SEAT: Validation of authentication

IN THE HOT SEAT: Validation of authentication

Few vendors would argue their biggest competitor is not another vendor, but their own business partners and customers.

However, for RSA's Chris Wood, capturing reseller mindshare, and convincing end-users that doing nothing about managing their passwords has a price-tag they can't afford, are what his job is all about.

Though an uphill battle, the fight to make secure authentication ubiquitous is one he feels he is winning.

How long have you been with RSA?

Chris Wood (CW): I started in April 2002 and have held the same role by title since, but the role itself has changed a lot in three years. We had less than a dozen resellers when I started and my role has been to build up that channel. I starting off managing localised resellers and now look after our global systems integrators.

Where were you prior to RSA?

CW: I have been in IT for about eight years now. I consider myself very fortunate to have worked for a VAR, a distributor and now two vendors. I have been in each part of the channel and have a fair idea of what motivates people in each link of the chain. This will have been the second time I have built up a channel almost from scratch.

Some people enjoy working for a large vendor that has an existing channel and maintaining it, but I enjoy starting and growing one.

How is the RSA channel structured?

CW: For 15 years we were an enterprise vendor, but in the last three years we have had an additional focus on the SMB space. So we now have three partners looking after the enterprise accounts and five looking after the commercial and growth business in A/NZ. The large resellers farm the enterprise customers and the small ones are about customer account acquisition.

You also have a sole distributor in Express Data. Why work with them?

CW: ED is a value-added distributor and was initially very good at providing high-level market intelligence. We are not in retail so that eliminates a broad-based distributor. The technologies ED sells are the same that our resellers deal in - Cisco, Check Point, Symantec, Citrix and Microsoft.

What are the advantages of that channel model?

CW: I see our biggest competition being other organisations which sell to customers, so the advantages are around getting greater mindshare.

A reseller will generally only talk about what they feel comfortable with and know they can deliver. So with one VAD we can make sure the reseller is comfortable with our product and can deliver it as part of a solution.

Because of our consolidation with ED we are one of their top 10 revenue earners, which means we get greater mindshare again.

You also have a number of technology partners. What role do they play?

CW: We look at Microsoft as a major part of our go-to-market strategy; Cisco, Citrix and Check Point as well. For Microsoft, we fit in with their secure enterprise access area providing identity management to organisations. Cisco is more on the VPN/firewall side and Citrix is about securely accessing information from any device, anywhere and at any time.

What do you see as the biggest challenge in your job?

CW: The biggest challenge is other technology providers. If a customer has X number of dollars for a VPN solution, it's about getting them to apportion part of that VPN budget on strong authentication - not spending it all on the VPN solution.

We need to make people believe we are a valid part of the solution rather than just a nice-to-have. Our major competition is people doing nothing. People think passwords are free, but they actually cost a lot to manage.

Is that a battle you feel you are winning at the moment?

CW: It is a battle that has always been there and we are getting better at fighting it. We have companies like Microsoft helping us and our partnership is getting stronger.

We estimate that we may have about four per cent of the market, so there is a bit of growth there. Applications like eBay and Yahoo are all wanting two-factor authentication.

Outside of getting mindshare, it is about knowing what opportunities to pursue. Some deals are a three- or four-year sales cycle but some are a one-call close. We also tripled revenues in the last three years and it would be nice to double them in the next three years.

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