Vendor focus

Steady start

Simon Whitburn, vice president of international sales at AccessData

The AccessData Group recently ventured into the region to cater to the demand for enterprise scale advanced security solutions. The company is now on the lookout for the right channel partners to help expand its reach and leverage the growing demand for these solutions at a significant competitive advantage.

The commoditisation of the Internet has led to the creation of the borderless organisation, one that sources and engages a much larger clientele than was earlier possible. While the opportunities created for organisations by the Internet are no doubt significant, the common utilisation of the Internet for everything from personal banking to online shopping and social networking has created room for e-crimes like identity theft and confidential data breach.

Over the last few years, we have all heard and read about a number of prominent international  organisations that have fallen ‘prey’ to both hackers and ‘hacktivists’. These victims not only lost large sums of money but suddenly found themselves dealing with the repercussions of long standing negative publicity. Their customers have been affected too, for instance, on May 2nd 2011; Sony confirmed that over 12,000 credit card numbers had been stolen during the course of the now infamous PSN attack.

In the wake of this explosion of cyber crimes, organisations have realised the very ‘real’ threat posed by cyber criminals and already security is listed as one of the top investment priorities of CIOs across the world.

Noting this increased demand for cyber security and risk mitigation solutions, AccessData Group, a pioneer in digital investigations and litigation support for more than twenty years and the maker of the industry-standard computer forensics technology, FTK, decided to venture into the Middle East.

“Five years ago as a company we made the conscious decision to make a significant investment outside of our core area of operations-FTK; which back then represented a commoditised, internationally recognised source of revenue for AccessData. Noticing the need for adaptive enterprise scale security solutions, we decided to focus our technology expertise on creating intelligent toolsets and incident response technology. We then began establishing our reach across the international markets by identifying key regions where we thought the demand for advanced security solutions was growing. Naturally, the maturing markets of the Middle East represented a huge opportunity for us, one that was young and rich in terms of IT investment patterns,” says Simon Whitburn, vice president of international sales at AccessData.

The company set up a head office in Dubai, UAE in 2010 and appointed Geoff Brooks, regional sales manager for AccessData’s emerging operations in the Middle East, Africa and India.

Whitburn explains that AccessData doesn’t consider itself a rival to other security vendors instead the company’s technology complements those of other vendors. “A lot of the technology out there is signature based blocking technology, our technology then complements an end user’s existing security environment by provisioning instant response capabilities to mitigate the risks or losses associated with data breach,” he says.

Brown adds, “While the traditional signature based technology has a place in layered security systems it represents only one layer because these solutions are programmed to track and block malware or threats with a pre identified signature. CERT, the instant response programme is the kind of technology that is programmed to look out for adaptive signatures or a variety of potential threat codes, making it a lot more efficient at detecting and blocking APTs.”

“The markets of Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar represent key growth segments across the GCC region. Much like Europe, a huge part of the demand for AccessData’s technology comes from organisations key to national infrastructure such as government, telecommunications, energy, utilities and banking and finance. We’ve had a prominent banking customer come to us to and say that they’ve lost a huge chunk of money without a trace. This client had already invested in the latest technology as per their information security policy, clearly indicating that there are threats out there that don’t even raise the regular alarm bells and therefore are very hard to detect, let alone block. This realisation is what has organisations in the region calling on a forensic company like AccessData to pick out the ‘needle from the stack of needles’, to identify how the breach occurred and where the money went. We can help organisations deploy real time identification technology that can help them mitigate the risk associated with network breaches,” Brown says.

According to Whitburn in 2010 the company reported modest revenues of $150,000 from its operations in the region. “In a year’s time our revenue grew to $2 million and we’re expecting to double this number by the end of 2012,” he adds.

Although the demand for the company’s services is quickly growing, both Brown and Whitburn say that AccessData is yet limited in its reach and is therefore actively trying to build a regional channel.

“At the moment we are pushing towards a two tier distribution model, we really feel like we have enough demand to warrant such a model given the technology opportunity and investment patterns in the region. Traditionally, we invested in a very small number of technology partners because the forensics space was very niche and focused almost entirely on the law enforcement vertical. However, our operations in this region need to be driven by a larger channel primarily because the corporate sector in the Middle East demands the in house capability to conduct their own forensic investigations without having to resort to a third party or divulge information to law enforcement. In order for us to deliver this capability across a larger corporate segment in Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait, East Africa and India we need to develop and skill the channel,” states Brown.

According to Brown, the company’s search for channel partners is hindered by the availability of skilled personnel in the region.

“We do get plenty of inbound enquiries about partnerships but actually finding the organisations that are prepared to invest in the right skills is a challenge. In addition, the attrition rates in the region is another considerable challenge, with many instances where we have invested time and resources in training only to find that these people have moved on to other organisations and different roles,” he says.

The right partners, Whitburn adds are organisations with some kind of security related background and vertical expertise especially across banking and finance, telecommunications and the government sectors. “We believe that these are the essentials, once we’ve established a long term partnership, we can then plug in the gaps through training and other support initiatives,” he adds.

The company has invested in the AccessData Certified Examiner (ACE) programme that is associated with education and technical training focused on the company’s core forensic technology or FTK. Once partners have achieved this certification they can then go on to leverage AccessData’s ‘Avatar’ programme to equip them with the skills necessary to provision pre sales, proof of concept and technical support associated with the brand’s advanced security solutions and products. Partners can also access AccessData’s Learning Management System (LMS) through the partner portal. “LMS takes all our courses and modulises them. While some modules are focused on the benefits of the technology, there are others associated with deployment and processing. LMS gives partners the ability to acquire the skills or even refresh their existing knowledge base in their own time,” he explains.

“We are also working on delivering training around our technical account managementnservices to provision partners with the skills necessary for adept service delivery. For instance, when we bring on a customer, we assign them a technical account manager from AccessData to manage the deployment and enable thorough support capability. The training will then enable partners to do the same without us having to intervene, this also represents a key value add that partners can offer their clients,” says Brown.

“We have to be very selective about who we bring on board and since this is a new space it takes some more education for resellers to understand where the opportunities lie and how they can differentiate themselves to earn a competitive edge and significant business benefit,” he adds.

Whitburn says that the company prefers to work with the larger system integrators and hardware vendors in the region. “Once we have convinced them of the opportunity, they’re keen to wrap their services around our solutions. Hardware vendors can now combine their hardware, storage capabilities and processing power with our software to offer customers a competitive efficient security solution. For the last six months, we’ve focused our energies on aligning ourselves with organisations that have these value add capabilities and we’ve successfully signed on approximately six key partners in the region, a number we hope to increase very quickly,” he concludes

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