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​Is Symantec sizing up a second split?

​Is Symantec sizing up a second split?

Innovation delays and executive departures stifle Symantec’s quest to reinvigorate its security market leadership

Michael Brown - CEO, Symantec

Michael Brown - CEO, Symantec

Symantec is rumoured to be considering a second split of the company in 2017, as innovation delays and executive departures stifle the vendor’s quest to reinvigorate its security market leadership.

Fresh from reporting its first quarter without information management unit Veritas, the return to pure-play status was meant to reinvigorate the company’s revenue growth as it aimed to leverage its historic security brand and address new demands in the fast-growing security market.

But disappointing first quarter financial results reflected the many challenges in its way.

After reporting revenue of $US873 million in 1Q16, a decline of 2.9 percent year-to-year, the embattled tech giant also revealed plans to cut its global workforce by 1,200 staff, coupled with the impending departure of Michael Brown as CEO.

“Although Symantec has one of the largest security customer bases in the world, the relatively slow pace of security innovation and continued organisational disruption at Symantec are draining customer confidence in the vendor and will lead to more declines for at least the next two quarters,” Technology Business Research Principal Analyst, Jane Wright, said.

Consequently, Wright said Symantec’s board of directors will consider splitting the company into two entities, positioning one for acquisition in 2017.

“Symantec’s development strategy, cost-cutting program and executive departures led to its failure to meet its revenue guidance and its reported year-to-year revenue decline in 1Q16,” Wright observed.

“Unlike competitors that have used acquisitions to quickly bring new security technologies to market, such as Cisco and IBM, Symantec has spent the past year developing most of its new security products and services organically.

“This strategy combined with an aggressive and ongoing expense reduction program caused Symantec to be relatively late to market with its advanced threat protection solution for the enterprise security segment.”

In its consumer security segment, Symantec also lost further momentum as its adjusted its Norton portfolio to address consumers’ declining use of traditional PCs.

At the same time, Symantec has seen a stream of executive departures over the past year, including its vice president of global sales and its vice president of Americas channel sales.

Most significantly, just prior to its 1Q16 earnings report, Brown - the company’s third CEO in recent years - will depart once a new CEO is found.

“Consumption preferences from customers in the enterprise security market also pressured Symantec’s growth,” Wright observed.

“As customers increasingly prefer subscription-based services, rather than perpetual security software licenses, Symantec’s historic revenue streams are threatened.

“Symantec’s portfolio road map calls for a number of new offerings to be delivered from the cloud over the next two years. In the meantime, the vendor is absorbing the impact of declining license revenue.”

For Wright, this scenario is not unique to Symantec however, with other vendors, such as IBM and FireEye, also rushing to expand subscription-based offerings to offset on-premises security software license revenue declines.

While the spending shift creates headwinds for Symantec and other vendors, Wright claimed the shift to subscription-based enterprise security solutions will lead to greater sales efficiency and more attached services revenue over the next two to three years.

Possible split?

According to Wright, Symantec’s recent performance and current strategies point to a possible split and sell-off in the company’s future.

“Although Symantec is profitable, its financials and investment strategy reflect a company in financial turmoil,” Wright said.

“The company received approximately $US3.5 billion (following a price adjustment and its equity contribution) from the sale of Veritas and took in another $US500 million investment from Silver Lake Partners in 2015.

“Symantec’s board of directors did not invest these savings and new funds in acquisitions that could have created many new opportunities for the vendor. Instead, the board opted to return money to stakeholders and continue its belt tightening.”

Wright said Symantec’s ongoing financial declines, investment choices and management changes (for example, the interim CEO replacing Brown was previously an officer at Silver Lake) creates an environment that will “compel” Symantec’s leadership to consider splitting the company into two companies, one focused on enterprise security and the other focused on consumer security solutions.

“We believe Symantec will evaluate offering its enterprise security business unit for acquisition while continuing to earn a strong profit from its consumer security business unit,” Wright claimed.

“Although such a move would be disruptive in the short term, it could restore enterprise customer confidence in the long term, especially if the acquiring company has a history of successful security acquisition integrations, such as Cisco or IBM.”

Channel play

As a newly established pure-play security vendor, Wright said Symantec is also adjusting its approach to the channel.

“When the company included Veritas, Symantec trained and incentivised its resellers to earn sales for both its information management and security solutions,” Wright explained.

“Now that its partners are unilaterally focused on security, Symantec has narrowed its channel priorities to strategic security segments including endpoint threat detection, data loss prevention, security analytics and security services.”

Looking ahead, Wright said Symantec’s channel strategy in 1H16 will emphasise recruiting expert security reseller partners that have a strong understanding of these strategic security areas.

“Symantec will continue to motivate channel successes in other ways, such as making it simpler for partners to achieve gold and platinum status and increasing financial incentives that drive growth within its reseller partner ecosystem,” Wright added.

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