Palo Alto Networks has grown fast locally over the past 18 months as the global company pursued a partners first approach to selling its cyber security platform.
The number of boots on the ground at Palo Alto NZ tripled over the last 18 months, managing director Misti Landtroop told Reseller News this month, as the company seized the opportunity to offer a unified security platform in what has become a highly fragmented market.
One key hire was Vasely Sapunov as head of channel and commercial business as the company makes sweeping changes to its partner programmes.
Landtroop said the creation of a local team has been well received by both customers and partners, especially as cyber threats mount. She is also keen to see greater sharing of threat intelligence and cooperation locally among cyber security vendors, as is happening globally through the years' old Cyber Threat Alliance.
"When the bad actors are coming after us, we should leave the competition at the door to share our threat intelligence," she said. "That's something we are quite passionate within the New Zealand market is that we can make sure we are keeping New Zealand safe."
While NZ had done a great job on COVID-19, from a cyber security perspective, we had a long way to go to be a leader on the global stage, she said. The issue was now how to help partners specialise and become more profitable and to help keep everybody safe.
As that battle shifted to data analysis and the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning, as opposed to plugging holes, one key differentiator was having a full platform. Sapunov said customers were appreciating the ability to work with a "trusted platform provider" that could eliminate the need to operate with disparate toolsets.
As threats and attacks increased, so did the need for large companies such as Palo Alto to innovate faster and enable channel partners to bring a platform to have confidence they were investing in the right technology and outcomes for their customers.
In a fragmented market, it is hard to create full accountability among a patchwork of vendors, but Landtroop said Palo Alto was now "almost a full throat to choke" and that was resonating with customers.
"Customers spend money emotionally after a problem happens, trying to fix it," she said. "Then we come in and show them how to take cost out with an elegant solution that will increase their security posture."
It was also very challenging to keep staff updated and skilled in a complex environment. To help, Palo Alto brought its cyber academy to New Zealand through Auckland's Unitec at end of last year to enable more people to enter cyber security industry.
Sapunov said we need to look wider than the usual suspects for talent acquisition. A native of Gisborne, he advocated educating people in the regions, for instance. Landtroop said talent can come from anywhere. Sapunov was a musician before entering the industry while in Australia the company had hired people in law and the performing arts.
"We talk about the brain drain, but we’ve had a brain gain with people repatriating back," Landtroop said.
That was good for NZ, the economy and the individuals.
The company also has partnered to create a security operation centre (SOC) here, built by PwC and based in Wellington to serve the APAC region. PwC created jobs within NZ while offering a virtual SOC service, enabled through a partner.
Sapunov said Palo Alto distributes through Westcon and Arrow ECS in New Zealand while its channel made up predominantly of managed services providers, network service partners and global systems integrators.
A joint global partnership with NTT recently saw that company move into NZ as a diamond innovation partner, joining Datacom as the largest local partner by scale.
Meanwhile, the company's global channel programme, NextWave 3.0, brought big changes in the last two years, creating opportunities for specialisation in areas such as cloud, SOC and automation or networking. That in turn gave partners the ability to create unique propositions to bring to market.
Partners were focusing on the differentiation that brought, with government and enterprise customers looking to outsource to an external capability. While the massive SolarWinds hack was something of a non-event locally, Landtroop said the hack of Microsoft Exchange Servers was a different story because New Zealand was very "Microsoft-centric".
"Any customer who hasn’t kept up with patches is exposed," she said. "We have contacted all customers locally and offered to help."
Landtroop's impression was that local people have been pretty well protected but today's bad actors are very sophisticated and sometimes they may not know they have got in or what they had done. Both SolarWinds and the MS Exchange hack have been attributed to state-sponsored actors, the first to Russia and the second to China.
Sapunov said it was now a saying that COVID-19 had become the world's chief digital transformation officer as companies rushed to move all kinds of functions and interactions online.
"We definitely see it that way for NZ businesses," he said. "The way Kiwi customers and partners have pivoted to address some of these emerging issues has been pretty phenomenal to watch and be a part of supporting. We are going to see a lot more of that because not everyone has fixed all their problems overnight."
Another effect is that at board level, cyber security is now a priority and the voice of technical decision-makers have become critical to the decisions government and enterprise customers were making.
Landtroop said she hates to say it but cyber security has been a very good industry to be in during a global pandemic, but with that comes a lot of responsibility to help customers and to keep New Zealand safe.