By elevating partners’ service capabilities, we ensure they offer a comprehensive cybersecurity solution to enterprises in today’s dynamic threat landscape: Jitendra Ghughal, Fortinet

Jitendra Ghughal

In this recent interview with CRN India, Jitendra Ghughal, Senior Director – Channel Management, SAARC, Fortinet shares insights into the company’s evolution over recent years, particularly in response to the challenges and opportunities presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortinet, a global leader in cybersecurity, has seen significant growth in cybersecurity opportunities amidst the pandemic, with a focus on secure networking, SD-WAN, secure SD-WAN, and cloud security.

Partnerships play a crucial role in Fortinet’s growth strategy, with a unique business model conducted entirely through partners. The interview discusses the evolution of Fortinet’s channel business alongside overall business growth, emphasising the importance of partner engagement and alignment with Fortinet’s objectives. The company encourages partners to seek new opportunities, accelerate their growth journey, and specialise in areas such as cloud security, SD-WAN, and SecOps.

Can you provide an overview of how your company has evolved over the past few years, particularly in light of the pandemic’s impact, which while challenging, also presented opportunities for businesses?

Over the past few years, we’ve witnessed a surge in cybersecurity opportunities spanning various domains, from secure networking to standalone solutions like SD-WAN and secure SD-WAN, along with a focus on cloud security. The onset of the pandemic prompted a significant shift towards remote work, requiring organisations to ensure productivity while operating from home. As this transition evolved, we’ve moved towards a hybrid workforce model, where individuals can work from anywhere, be it the office, home, or even the airport. However, with this flexibility comes an exponential increase in cybersecurity challenges, as the attack surface widens, providing multiple entry points for potential threats.

This expanded attack surface has posed significant challenges for organisations striving to protect their people, devices, and data. This is where our role becomes pivotal. We aim to provide secure solutions that protect data, devices, and people regardless of their location. Our objective is to develop integrated solutions that offer rapid response times to mitigate threats effectively, minimising the impact of any security event.

Our efforts in this direction have yielded substantial growth, with our solutions standing the test of time. We’ve witnessed remarkable success, with our global market share exceeding 50% in recent quarters, a testament to our position as a leader in the cybersecurity market. Whether catering to small, medium, or large enterprises, organisations across various sectors have relied on Fortinet to deliver enterprise-grade security solutions.

Our product portfolio boasts over 50 enterprise-grade security solutions, designed to work seamlessly on a single platform. This unified approach simplifies cybersecurity management, enabling organizations to respond swiftly to threats. As we continue to evolve, our focus remains on providing robust cybersecurity solutions tailored to meet the dynamic needs of organisations worldwide.

Were there any specific requirements or demands related to cloud security that emerged during this period of rapid cloud adoption?

Absolutely, organisations have been rapidly deploying their infrastructure to the cloud. However, the transition to the cloud doesn’t diminish the need for robust security measures. Whether it’s securing cloud infrastructure, data, devices, or applications, the importance of maintaining security remains paramount, even in cloud environments. While there are cloud-native security solutions available, they may not always meet the requirements for enterprise-grade security.

Fortinet steps in to address this gap, recognising that many organisations are not entirely migrating to cloud infrastructure but adopting a hybrid approach. This entails having applications both on-premises and in the cloud. Managing security across such a hybrid infrastructure is crucial, and Fortinet provides solutions that cater to both on-premises and cloud-based applications.

With a unified set of security solutions, Fortinet ensures consistent security regardless of the cloud service provider (CSP) chosen. For example, organisations using FortiGate as their on-premises firewall solution can seamlessly transition to a virtual machine (VM) form of the same solution, regardless of the CSP they opt for. This consistency simplifies management for customers, as the security solutions they’ve been using for years remain largely unchanged, whether on-premises or in the cloud.

Fortinet also offers certifications tailored for partners specialising in cloud security. These certifications, such as “cloud security for AWS” and “cloud security for Azure,” empower partners to develop expertise in securing CSP platforms. This enables partners to deliver cloud security solutions more effectively to their customers, complementing their existing capabilities in providing on-premises solutions.

Within the Fortinet partner program, there are specific business models and specialisations geared towards cloud security. Partners aligned with CSPs can leverage these resources to deliver tailored cloud security solutions to their customers. This strategic approach has proven successful, leading to significant growth in Fortinet’s cloud security business over the past few years.

How has the channel business evolved alongside your overall business growth during these unprecedented times, and what has been your strategy for expanding the channel ecosystem?

When we examine Fortinet as an organisation, our unique business model presents a distinctive challenge. We conduct all our business through partners, a significant portion of which is facilitated via our distributors, who then sell to our registered partners. This global model has been instrumental in our growth trajectory. Speaking of growth, I can provide insights into our performance as of September 2023, our Q3. During that quarter, our revenue surged by nearly 16% globally, reaching approximately $1.3 billion, with billings close to $1.49 million.

To gauge our growth trend over the past few years, consider our compound annual growth rate (CAGR) in revenue from 2017 to 2022, which stands at around 25% to 26%. This robust growth owes much to the dedication and contribution of our partners, who have been pivotal to our success. Notably, partners who have embraced specific business models and specialisations have witnessed accelerated growth, underscoring the importance of strategic alignment in our partner ecosystem.

Within our partner program, we observe distinct levels of engagement as partners ascend from one level to the next. We categorise our partners into four tiers: Advocate, Select, Advanced, and Elite. As partners progress through these levels, they augment their certifications, gaining expertise tailored to each tier’s requirements. This elevated expertise correlates with a notable uptick in business performance. Partners transitioning from one level to another often experience a substantial surge in growth, particularly when they reach the Select level, where they are better positioned to engage with customers, comprehend their security needs, and deliver tailored solutions effectively.

Over the past few years, we’ve witnessed a trend of increasing partner progression, with more partners advancing from one level to the next. This upward mobility within our partner ecosystem signifies a deeper level of engagement and alignment with Fortinet’s objectives, laying a solid foundation for sustained growth and collaboration.

Essentially, what I was trying to emphasise is the transition partners have undergone, progressing from one level to another within our ecosystem. There’s been a noticeable demand from partners who recognise the substantial growth potential as they ascend from Advocate to Select, and then from Select to Advanced levels. This drive to elevate their status to expert level has intensified among partners. We’ve observed partners striving to meet our certification guidelines within partner programs, aiming to advance from one level to the next.

Each partnership level offers its distinct set of benefits, motivating partners to pursue higher tiers within the program. In terms of partner distribution, we have over 10 global and regional partners at the expert and advanced levels in India. Additionally, we’ve surpassed 50 partners at the advanced level and more than 150 partners at the select level. While not all are focus partners, the growth in partner numbers across these tiers has been significant, underscoring the appeal and perceived value of progressing within our partnership framework.

How does your organisation encourage partners to seek new opportunities and accelerate their growth journey beyond certifications?

Once we delve into partnership levels, the discussion naturally shifts towards the business model and how partners engage with their customers. We emphasise the importance of partners selecting a business model that resonates with their customer base and aligns with their own business strategies.

For instance, a partner may opt to become an integrator partner, an MSSP partner, or a cloud partner. An MSSP partner typically focuses on service-driven approaches, developing services around Fortinet products and emphasising consumption-based service models. On the other hand, an integrator partner may prioritise delivering capex-oriented solutions.

We highlight the significance of the cloud business model, particularly for partners aligned with CSPs. By leveraging their alignment with CSPs and partnering with Fortinet in the realm of security, these partners can leverage their technology expertise effectively.

We also encourage partners to consider specialisation areas such as SD-WAN, SecOps, or operational technology (OT). These specialised areas have been pivotal to our growth in recent years. When partners embrace business models with the right specialisation, they can accelerate their growth by aligning customer requirements with their internal business strategies for delivering cybersecurity solutions.

Do you believe that Managed Security Service Providers (MSSPs) will become increasingly crucial in the coming years, considering the broader trend among security vendors, IT vendors, and cloud service providers to offer managed services? Will MSSPs be in higher demand compared to partners specialised in specific domains, given their comprehensive approach to security and overall IT management?

The MSSPs have a significant opportunity for growth, with an increasing number of partners showing interest in this domain. What’s notable is that our focus isn’t solely on partners delivering network security solutions but also extends to other offerings. For instance, our SIEM solutions now feature a consumption-based model, attracting more partners to explore the realm of MSSP partnerships. This trend has already gained momentum over the past year, indicating a promising trajectory for the future.

As the market continues to expand, catering to a diverse range of customers across various sizes and sectors, the demand for managed security services will only intensify. Here, our integrator partners play a crucial role, positioned to capitalise on the growing requirements of clients. Moreover, selected MSSP partners have the opportunity to develop specialised services around Fortinet solutions, leveraging programs like FortiDirect, FortiEDR, FortiWeb, and FortiMail.

Our offerings, such as the MSSP Monitor program and Flex VM program, provide flexible consumption models tailored to the evolving needs of MSP partners. This is particularly beneficial for hosting solution providers and data centre solution providers experiencing rapid growth and needing to swiftly deploy solutions while ensuring robust security measures.

With solutions like Flex VM catering to the demands of partners in deploying infrastructure and enhancing security within tight timelines, we anticipate significant growth in this space. Across our suite of solutions, including FortiGate, FortiMail, FortiWeb, and OTDR, we foresee substantial expansion, driven by the increasing adoption of managed security services by partners worldwide.

How challenging is it for your organisation, as a global leader in security, to elevate the capabilities of your partners while keeping pace with evolving threat vectors and constantly innovating to counter cyber threats?

Certainly, it all begins with delivering AI-focused solutions, essentially harnessing AI-driven approaches across our product spectrum. Whether it’s our FortiGate solution, management solutions, AI Ops, or FortiGuard Labs, AI plays a pivotal role in enhancing intelligence and empowering our partners to address customer challenges more efficiently. By providing intelligence through FortiGuard Labs and embedding AI capabilities across our product line, we ensure that our partners can respond swiftly to dynamic cybersecurity threats.

Moreover, organisations need to extend their security focus beyond their network perimeters to understand and mitigate risks originating from outside their infrastructure. Solutions like external attack surface monitoring and dark web monitoring enable our partners to offer comprehensive security services, helping customers navigate the complexities of the digital landscape effectively. By combining these solutions and services strategically, partners can tackle evolving cybersecurity challenges with precision and efficacy.

In addition to product-centric approaches, we emphasise the importance of enabling our partners to enhance their service capabilities. Through initiatives like EPSP (Engage Preferred Services Partner) and ETSP (Engage Technical Support Partner), we equip partners with the expertise to deliver professional services and technical support at a superior level. These programs go beyond mere certifications, focusing on deepening partners’ understanding of our products and ensuring proficiency in deployment and customer support.

The EPSP program enables partners to gain insights into product functionality and effective deployment strategies, while the ETSP program empowers them to provide prompt and efficient technical support to customers. By elevating partners’ service capabilities, we enable them to enhance their customers’ security posture, thereby fostering stronger relationships and ensuring comprehensive cybersecurity protection in today’s dynamic threat landscape.

Are partners prepared to engage in boardroom-level security discussions with enterprises, and if so, how are they being equipped to interact directly with top-level executives?

Our partner ecosystem has experienced significant growth over the past few years, with partners elevating their skill sets to engage more effectively with customers. Customers now view partners not merely as solution deployers but as trusted security advisors and consultants. This shift in perspective underscores the expectation for partners to comprehend and address the intricate security needs of customers comprehensively.

Our role is to support our partners in this evolution, not only through certifications but also through regular engagement aimed at guiding them in understanding various initiatives and selecting appropriate solutions. We go beyond standard certification programs by facilitating workshops and joint marketing activities, such as roundtable discussions and collaborative events. These efforts are instrumental in enhancing our partners’ understanding of customer requirements and equipping them to respond effectively. As we collaborate closely with our partners, they grow alongside us ensuring a more robust and tailored approach to addressing customer needs.

What direction have you set for your entire ecosystem in 2024 and beyond, and where do you envision them in the next couple of years?

Our primary objective moving forward is to significantly enhance our partnership ecosystem, ensuring that Fortinet provides robust support to our partners, thereby facilitating smoother business transactions. To achieve this, we are expanding our team dedicated to partner engagement, investing in additional resources to better assist our partners. We’ve already made significant strides in this regard last year and plan to continue this momentum throughout the current year.

When it comes to our partners, specialisation will be a key focus area. In 2024, we anticipate substantial growth opportunities in Universal SASE (Secure Access Service Edge). We’ve already initiated collaborative efforts with our partners, encouraging them to invest in demo licences, certifications, and joint marketing activities related to Universal SASE. With considerable investments in our SASE capabilities within India, we view this as a prime growth avenue for our partners in the coming years.

We’re also witnessing increased alignment from partners in terms of certifying and training their personnel in Universal SASE. Another area of emphasis is the services-led approach, particularly in the realm of EPSP and ETSP programs. We seek to onboard more partners who are willing to capitalise on the revenue potential from services and technical support.

In line with this service-led approach, we are also looking to collaborate with Managed Security Service Provider (MSSP) partners who adopt flexible consumption models, offering diverse solutions such as Flex VM for SIEM. We anticipate significant growth in this segment, particularly as MSSP partners increasingly adopt such models, driving exponential growth.

In addition to Universal SASE, we foresee a surge in partners embracing SecOps (Security Operations) as a pivotal area of growth. Traditionally network security-focused partners are shifting their attention towards SecOps solutions like FortiSASE and FortiDeceptor. We aim to work closely with selected partners to deliver cutting-edge operational technology (OT) security solutions, catering to the specific needs of customers requiring OT security or involved in IoT (Internet of Things) deployments.


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