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Published: January 14th, 2015

Security vendor Websense has appointed former IBM executive John Starr as its new channel chief.

Starr was officially introduced on Jan. 14 and will have the title of vice president of channel sales and professional services.

This hire comes approximately 18 months after Shawn Pearson was appointed vice president of global channels. Pearson has left Websense.

John Starr
John Starr

Even though Starr starts the job on Jan. 14th, he has been working with the Websense’s executive team on strategic programs for a number of transformational efforts, including the development of the Websense channel strategy and the creation of the company’s professional services organization.

Prior to joining Websense, Starr held the role of director of strategic programs at Vista Equity Partners and spent seven years with IBM’s strategy practice. During his tenure at IBM, he led the reorganization of the U.S. and Canadian consulting businesses as well as redesigning the global sales methodology.

Starr took time out to talk to CDN about his new role at Websense. The following is an edited transcript.

CDN Now: What did you like about the Websense channel chief job?

John Starr: Though the process I thought it was the same as IBM. At Websense, I firmly believe they have the backbone of an organization that has a set of products that differentiate in the marketplace. IBM has it and Websense has it. And, Websense continues to innovate and build on that differentiation. That was a major attraction for me across the whole security industry. This is a growing a market and its in-demand. There are some players who have better products than others. I wanted to go to an organization with a similar view.

CDN Now: Your background is with IBM, how is that going to help you run the channel at Websense?

J.S.: I ran IBM’s strategic practice and our two main goals there was security and to work with the business units and other IBM organization to solve problems that are not easy to solve. Some of those focused on the business model and the ecosystems and how they are selling and running the sales forces. Some had to do with making improvements to the channel. The focus was on solving problems that were difficult to figure out. The reality was those problems were not strategic to the focus on the channel and it needed to improve so we were called in to do that. Secondly, was to take solutions to other IBM clients and we found that in the last recession those that did that end up fairly well and they wanted to learn how.

CDN Now: You have professional services in your channel chief title. Why is that?

J.S.: Part of the reason why it is in my title was that I launched that at Websense last year. I worked with Shawn (Pearson) on that and it became a logical decision. There is also, quite honestly, some reason behind putting the two together. What we are trying to do is make it easier for the end customer to get access to skilled technical resources that are lacking in the market today. The complexity customers are facing against (cyber warfare operatives of nation states) governments or well organized hackers you have to be prepared and one of the problems customers have is not enough people to build a group inside the organization to do that. What we are trying to do is make it easier to find these skilled resources. Perfect example of this is a customer that manufactures drill bits. They have a lot of IP especially for oil sector and they have to protect that IP with a partner. What solutions do they need to purchase? They have it now it needs to work, but they do not have the security group in-house to see if works well in their environment. They can go to the partner and if they have good relationship and trust them then that’s a great way to get those skilled resources, but if they don’t what do they do? How do they know what decision to make next? We created another option for the customer. I want to make it clear we are not taking over the professional services world. We are a subscription business and renewals are important and if the customer suffers then we suffer.

Partners who have not staffed up on the professional services side are still great partners of Websense and we want to take them along for the journey. We have, in our opinion, a lot of skills and the U.S. and Canada have not actively staffed up their teams to deliver professional services. We did not want to do things that are not partner-friendly so we created an option for customer to access two highly skilled security solution provider partners and we work with them. We are involved but are using their resources. We want the partner community to be involved. We do not want to take it all in house. If those two partners are overwhelmed then we find another partner to take over that volume. Both channel partners are based in the U.S. and customers engage with them directly.

CDN Now: What is your channel philosophy?

J.S.: I think it is a simple philosophy. The better we are in being more predictable and transparent in how we price, interact with partners and how we go to market in verticals. In the end we want to be a better partner. We are doing three things over and over again. Listen to partner and end customer. The data that comes in from the sales team and revenue we are making; make thoughtfully decisions on that data that is good for us and the partner. Roll them out and then do it again. That is how we will operate. Partners will have a voice and if a decision is not the correct one; we have the ability to say we made a mistake and fix it. I do not want to make decisions in an ivory tower. That is not how we will operate.

CDN Now: The Internet of Things is trending marketplace. How will Websense address that market from a security perspective?

J.S.: Certainly it’s one of the trends that is all over our road map. It sounds great and implies personal data on all sorts of things like appliances stored on anything. What that means is the spread of personal data going out into smaller and smaller appliances and devices that does something instead of protecting something the more exposed you become. I am exciting on the lifestyles it might bring but terrified at the exposure of all personal data. That is a big opportunity for us. We are working on how we should attack it. It’s a lot easier now to pick off personal data than before.