Symantec and VeriSign; a new online trust powerhouse or some techno-Frankenstein built from mis-matched parts.

This little, nerdy, techie nichy type of article would normally go right over my head, but given my background in security (Computer Associates and Comodo), the recent news about Symantec acquiring VeriSign got me thinking. The deal, in a nutshell, means that Symantec, known for its security suite is looking to expand into the authentication business by buying VeriSign, a certification authority, whose core product, SSL certificates, is BTW shrinking.

Here’s the official Symantec spin:

The combination of VeriSign’s security products, services and recognition as the most trusted brand online and Symantec’s leading security solutions and widespread distribution will enable Symantec to deliver on its vision of a world where people have simple and secure access to their information from anywhere.”

Symantec and VeriSign actually have a lot in common. They both grew by acquiring technology (as an aside I think Symantec is good at integrating new companies into its line-up). Both are in a commodity business with real challenges in managing partners and pricing:

“With this acquisition, we extend our strategy to create the most trusted brand…The VeriSign check mark is the most recognized symbol of trust online… Symantec’s security solutions and the company’s Norton-branded suites protect more than one billion systems and users around the world. By bringing these security assets together, Symantec will become the leading source of trust online.”

But one is left scratching their head when you continue to read the Symantec explanation of why they are acquiring VeriSign. Here is clincher:

“Symantec plans to incorporate the VeriSign check mark into a new logo to convey that it is safe to communicate, transact commerce and exchange information online.”

You read right. While the clearly appreciate the power of the VeriSign icon – they intend to ditch it. Something does not compute.

What do I think is going on here? For my money, both companies needed each other as a defensive stance rather than as growth measure. Let’s start with VeriSign. Their product line has come under significant pressure from a wide variety of sources given the wide net of their largely unsuccessful acquisition efforts. Worse, in their core SSL business, there was no way to maintain a premium pricing structure given the success of value based alternatives such as GlobalSign or Comodo.

As for Symantec, they are frantically acquiring companies and the VeriSign deal was the third encryption-related purchase for Symantec in three weeks! Their land grab in the authentication space is necessary because; a) there little home grown technology to build from and b) as security solutions become utterly commoditized, the higher margin opportunities are left in authentication services.

I can only speculate on the net gain or loss for the shareholders of both companies, but Symantec’s sudden fondness for becoming “…the leading source of trust online” seems rather “Johnny come lately” especially given their current “confidence in a connected world” focus.

Becoming a “leading source of online trust” is not something you wake up to one morning and decide to do. It is has to be the central “why” to a company. It has to drive how you innovate, what you acquire and how you build your offerings. Have I ever seen that kind of intense commitment to online trust from Symantec? Nope. Can you say that the VeriSign is a brand that means some notion of online trust? Yup. Are either company known as a technology innovator? No and not in this lifetime.

That’s why when you add this acquisition to the other companies Symantec acquired, you start getting this vague techno-Frankenstein quality to its brand as though some “mad board of techno-scientists” tried to create a viable company from the parts other companies. Paying $1.3B for a company with about $400MM in sales seems a lot to pay so possibly some “trust” dust will cling to the Symantec brand. IMHO though – the math doesn’t add up.

But hey – don’t trust my opinion – I’m just a curious bystander.

Judy Shapiro

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Who cares what Google says!

My son showed me a Google search result that was in contradiction to a fact that I knew to be true about the Great Depression (I am, by training, a history major).

 

So I looked closer at the source he was using to make his point and realized it was a not a reliable information source but rather an affiliate site from some financial services company.

 

“Honey”, I say with more patience. “Google simply shows you which pages have the words you looked for. It can not tell you which information to trust.”

 

And then out of the mouth babes came, “Then who cares what Google says”. Precisely.

 

Google’s power comes from its ability to gather information efficiently and serve it back to users based on a keyword driven algorithm technology platform. However, no matter how intelligent keyword search becomes, it can not provide the critical ingredient to make search reliable – it can not tell us when to trust the information we are being given.

 

That, is where, the line in the sand is drawn between the searches of today and the new way to search in the future. Between the power of Google today and upcoming power of whoever delivers trusted searches.

 

And I am betting that this “whoever” will be our digital social networks. I believe they will become the new Google of tomorrow (actually Googles…)

 

Look at this it this way. In the real world, much of what we need to know can best come from our personal and professional networks because it is, in fact, trusted. We go there first because it saves us a lot of time and fuss. We enlarge the information gathering process only if this does not provide us all we need.

 

Translate that concept to our digital social network world. I believe that we will be able to configure our social networks efficiently to be our first search circle moving out as the needs requires.

 

It makes sense. It’s what we do every day.

 

Watch out Google. Here we come.

 

Judy Shapiro

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