Focus and Depth from an Iconic Company

There is an old strip mall near my home (which is a New Jersey tautology). In that mall, an empty space formerly housed by K-Mart stands decaying, while a nearby Walgreens remains busy and vibrant. It makes you wonder: How does one iconic business brand manage to slide itself into bankruptcy, while another thrives and succeeds amidst decades of significant change? I think the answer lies in the ability of senior management to adjust.

Take K-Mart, for example (founded in 1899). Their management just flat-out ignored the changing habits of their customers. This is best exemplified by K-Mart’s ridiculously out-of-date cash registers, which kept those “Attention K-Mart Shoppers” standing and waiting for much too long. On the other hand, Walgreens (founded in 1901) has adjusted effectively with the times, perhaps best exemplified by their new beauty differentiation consultants. Go figure.

I had these business success themes in mind during a recent technical review with Raja Patel, Vice President and General Manager of Corporate Security Products for McAfee. Raja was kind enough to sit with me and openly answer my questions, including the big one: Can McAfee evolve from its origins as an AV company in the Awesome Nineties to a vibrant cyber technology innovator in the Roaring Twenties? I think you will enjoy hearing Raja’s answer.

“There was a time not too long ago,” he explained, “where if you could list a cyber security function, then McAfee had at least one product offering in that category. If a customer asked, for example, about email security, or MDM, or NGFW, then we had a solution in each of these areas. And while few would doubt that we were providing good products, this spread prevented us from focusing on our core technical strengths.”

I asked Raja to help me understand where the company views its core strengths, and he pointed to three areas: First, McAfee sees itself, justifiably, as having one of the strongest programs in endpoint security available today. And this first point is hard to argue. McAfee’s experience dealing with the plethora of virus, malware, and related security challenges for consumers and businesses around the world is tough to match.

Second, McAfee now fully anticipates the importance of cloud security in modern cyber infrastructure, inclusive of individual consumers, all the way up to the largest global business operations. “We see device-to-cloud as one of the driving forces in modern computing,” Raja said, “with mobile-to-XaaS as one of the most common use-cases, especially in businesses choosing to reduce their dependence on a firewall perimeter.”

Third, McAfee recognizes the need to tie things together with security operations. This is an underlying protection component, based on technology, processes, and people, that has come to the forefront of our industry in recent years with threat hunters working in SOCs dealing with a more intense cyber threat from advanced actors. McAfee is obviously well-positioned to support the research and sharing required to support effective operational cyber defense.

I asked Raja what ties these focus areas together – and his answer resonated: Depth, he explained to me, is what truly differentiates McAfee from its competitors. I could not agree more. Look, it’s simple to hire a consultant who will help you focus – and it’s not much of a leap to discover that endpoint, cloud, and SecOps are relevant cyber targets. But it is not so simple to back up this focus with real technical depth. That has been McAfee’s strength for years.

“Our recent acquisition of Skyhigh Networks is an example of our targeted focus,” he said. “Their world-class CASB solution, which we are integrating into our solution set, offers visibility for security managers into public cloud usage, as well as supporting the need for a distributed software perimeter.” This all made good sense to me – and I can personally attest to the real technical depth of the Skyhigh team, led by my good friend, Rajiv Gupta.

One other key part of McAfee’s approach lies in its strategy of creating open platforms and technology. Raja shared with me the specifics of their Security Innovation Alliance program, which brags over one-hundred partners. Through this program, technology providers can integrate into the McAfee portfolio via constructs such as the Open DXL (Data Exchange Layer Initiative), which enables threat information sharing across systems in a customer environment.

Look, I guess it’s hard for an old analyst like me – one who has come up from the ranks in our industry – to remain unbiased to familiar, iconic brands such as McAfee. I can personally attest, for example, to the ease with which McAfee tools continue to make it easy for managers to be nimble with tasks such as security software update. And I can personally attest to the incredibly high-quality malware research that has always been at the core of McAfee’s team.

The truth is, however, that McAfee’s intense growth a couple decades ago was realized in an environment where the only real competition came from Symantec. Now, as McAfee reinvents its cyber security business around these core focus areas, our industry is literally flooded with companies that have this iconic brand in their direct cross-hairs. So, anyone who thinks that McAfee’s road ahead will be a lay-up is just not paying attention to our industry.

But I would find it hard to bet against the company. Raja Patel, for example, is the real deal – and if you get the chance to meet up with him, you’ll see that his intense focus and years of experience will be a great asset to a renewed McAfee. Perhaps, just as it is good for baseball to have a successful Yankees, I would say that it is good for our industry to have a successful McAfee. Let’s hope Raja and his team can live up to our high expectations.

Please share your own perspectives.