Our growth strategy focuses on geographic expansion, collaborating with specialised partners, and meeting evolving customer consumption models: Manish Alshi, Check Point

Manish Alshi

CRN India recently conducted an insightful interview with Manish Alshi, Head of Channels & Growth Technologies – India & SAARC, Check Point Software Technologies, delving into the evolving landscape of cybersecurity amidst the surge in digital transformation. As cybersecurity gains paramount importance globally, particularly in India, the discussion focuses on Check Point’s channel strategy and its pivotal role in addressing the dual challenge of enhancing cybersecurity measures while managing associated risks effectively.

The IT industry has seen a surge in cybersecurity focus, with numerous innovations amidst the emergence of new threat vectors. Could you provide insights into your growth story?

Check Point is a renowned name in the cybersecurity space, with over 30 years of experience. Founded by Gil Shwed, the organisation has been a pioneer in the field, particularly in India, where it has operated for the past 23 years. India holds a strategic position in Check Point’s global market strategy. Over the years, Check Point has cultivated strong relationships with customers and partners, which have been pivotal to its success.
In recent times, cybersecurity has become a critical concern in India, driven by the escalating threat landscape, especially in the wake of the pandemic. The country’s geopolitical situation has also made cybersecurity a top priority for the government, leading to increased investments and policy guidelines for various sectors.

While Check Point has traditionally been strong in segments like BFSI, manufacturing, and IT/ITes, there’s a growing focus on the government sector due to its increased investment in cybersecurity. This sector is witnessing significant growth, reflecting the overall trend in the country.

Looking ahead, the cybersecurity market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 16-18% globally over the next 8 years. However, the Indian market is poised to grow at a faster rate, driven by increased spending from key segments such as government, BFSI, and IT/ITes.

With the evolution of threats targeting not just data centres but also endpoints and cloud environments, Check Point emphasises the need for comprehensive, multi-domain cybersecurity solutions. Its focus on research and development ensures that it stays ahead of the curve, offering customers holistic solutions that address the entire threat landscape.
From an organisational perspective, Check Point is entering an exciting phase, marked by recent events in APJ, Europe, and upcoming events in the US. These events showcase Check Point’s commitment to innovation, with new product launches designed to meet the evolving needs of customers.

Check Point’s philosophy revolves around providing customers with smart solutions that offer a single pane of reference for managing cybersecurity threats. As the company moves forward, it remains dedicated to helping organisations safeguard their assets and reputation in an increasingly complex threat environment.

What has been the channel play in this overall growth dynamics?

First and foremost, it’s important to reiterate that we take immense pride in being a 100% channel-driven company. This isn’t just a tagline; it’s the essence of our business model. From market approach to transactions, channels are at the core of our operations, facilitating 100% of our business dealings, including our endeavours in India, where we’ve maintained a consistent presence for over two decades. Our journey in India spans over 23 years, during which we have steadfastly maintained our reliance on channels. Some of our partners have been with us for decades, showcasing the enduring strength of this approach.

A longstanding relationship with our partners speaks volumes about the strength and resilience of the company’s channel strategy.

Central to our partnership ethos are continuous innovation and a comprehensive suite of solutions tailored to meet the evolving demands of customers. We prioritise keeping our partners abreast of the latest technological advancements through robust support mechanisms, including technical enablement, training, and certifications.

Recognising the expanding role of services in the cybersecurity landscape, we empower our partners to augment their offerings beyond product lines. Our goal is to help them establish themselves not only as resellers but also as trusted advisors, equipped with a robust services portfolio to address diverse customer needs effectively.

Collaboration with our partners is characterised by mutual benefit. While they provide extensive market coverage, acting as our extended arms, we offer cutting-edge product platforms and support to enhance their competitiveness and profitability.

Our commitment to expanding our reach is reflected in our efforts to onboard new partners and penetrate emerging segments and geographies. Last year, we welcomed 150 partners into our ecosystem, with plans to double that number this year, aiming to onboard approximately 300 new partners. This expansion underscores our dedication to empowering partners and maximising our market presence.

The dynamic nature of the cybersecurity industry is evident in the increasing influx of partners transitioning from conventional data centre products to cybersecurity solutions. As pioneers in this space, we’re witnessing a significant surge in partner interest, with double the number of partners joining us compared to previous years.

Our channel-driven approach, fuelled by innovation, trust, and mutual benefit, remains pivotal to our success in navigating the ever-evolving cybersecurity landscape. As we continue to expand our ecosystem and empower our partners, we remain steadfast in our commitment to delivering unparalleled value to our customers worldwide.

Considering the company’s increased focus on new verticals like Government and its transition from traditional network security to cloud, SASE, or App Sec XDR clients, is the decision to double the team size from 150 to 300 strategic?

When analysing our growth trajectory, it’s crucial to pinpoint the specific areas where this expansion is taking place. Firstly, geographical expansion stands out as a significant driver. Our partner ecosystem is extending its reach into various regions, actively engaging with customers in diverse locales. This strategic move plays a pivotal role in our growth strategy, forming a critical spoke in the wheel of our operations.

Secondly, the adoption of a multi-pronged approach is another key element. Diversifying our solutions across different streams is paramount. We collaborate with specialised partners who excel in specific areas, such as endpoint security or cloud migration. For instance, SASE (Secure Access Service Edge) has emerged as a new focus, attracting partners dedicated to cloud consumption, adoption, and application migration. This diversity in offerings aligns well with our cloud security solutions, integrating seamlessly into our go-to-market strategy and resonating with the needs of various customer segments.

Conventional data centre players are increasingly interested in incorporating data centre security into their portfolios. This trend underscores the breadth of our product segments and our ability to address security requirements across diverse consumption areas. As a result, we’re witnessing a surge in specialised partners eager to collaborate and cater to specific solution ideas and access points, further fueling our growth.

Thirdly, customer consumption patterns are undergoing a transformative shift. Today’s customers favour operational expenses over capital expenses, driving demand for as-a-service models across cloud and data centre environments. Managed Security Services Providers (MSSPs) are gaining traction as customers seek flexible pay-as-you-go or leasing models. This shift towards operational expenditure necessitates financial auditing and expertise, leading to closer collaboration with distribution ecosystems and financial services organisations. The evolving ecosystem dynamics underscore the interconnectedness of partners, each contributing their expertise to meet customer demands and consumption preferences.

Our growth strategy revolves around three primary focuses: geographical expansion, collaboration with product-specific specialised partners, and catering to evolving customer consumption models. These pillars drive the influx of new partners eager to address customer needs and participate in the evolving landscape of cybersecurity and IT solutions.

What is the composition of the 150 entities you currently have, particularly in terms of MSSPs? Are they the majority, and what is the overall model like?

A majority of those partners are still data centre players. This observation doesn’t come with an exact numerical figure, but I would estimate that roughly 80% of the partners remain key players in the data centre arena. Another segment, constituting about 10% of the partners, enters from a services provider portfolio perspective. The remaining 10% comprise ecosystem players or surrounding entities, including consultants, financial services providers, and those offering specialised consumption models tailored closely to customer needs. This last group, I would estimate, makes up around 7-8% of the total partner landscape.

What’s intriguing is the lack of rigid barriers among these partner categories. It’s a dynamic environment where data center players are diversifying into managed services, mirroring a trend where systems integration firms are developing proprietary software solutions to complement their service offerings. Even distributors are establishing internal divisions, leveraging their financial expertise to integrate financial services models into their market strategies. This consolidation trend underscores a shift towards becoming comprehensive solutions providers, capable of addressing diverse customer needs under one roof. Regardless of customer preferences or requirements, these partners aim to position themselves as the go-to resource, either by expanding their service portfolios or by collaborating with specialised partners to cover all bases.

This evolving landscape signals a departure from the traditional model of isolated partner ecosystems, where each entity operated within its own domain. Instead, the trend is towards a more interconnected ecosystem model. In this paradigm, multiple players collaborate on specific opportunities, leveraging their respective expertise to offer comprehensive solutions. The goal is to provide customers with an integrated service toolkit, tailored to meet their diverse needs and preferences.

What we’re witnessing is a transformation aimed at strengthening the partner ecosystem for the future. This shift towards collaboration and integration not only addresses current market demands but also sets the stage for continued adaptation and evolution. By embracing this ecosystem model, partners can better align with customer needs, maximise efficiency, and ultimately deliver more value-added solutions. It’s a strategic move towards greater synergy and responsiveness in an ever-changing landscape of technological innovation and customer expectations.

In your pursuit of enhancing self-service capabilities among partners and fostering an MSSP-oriented ecosystem, particularly in the cybersecurity domain, do you believe it necessitates a distinct effort from global leaders like yourselves to cultivate such capabilities? Also, given the comparatively low proportion of MSSP partners vis-a-vis traditional ones, has your organisation implemented a separate MSSP partner program? If so, what was the rationale behind establishing this program?

As a partner organisation or an OEM entity, our strategies are deeply rooted in the trajectory of the industry and the evolving needs of our customers. Amidst escalating demands and expanding threat landscapes, it’s imperative to acknowledge that IT budgets don’t always mirror the pace of these changes. In fact, they often face constraints, whether through shrinkage, stagnation, or minimal growth. Compounding this challenge is the scarcity of skilled technical resources in the cybersecurity realm. As organisations strive to fortify their cybersecurity posture within these budgetary confines, they increasingly turn to partner organisations like us to deliver more with less.

Addressing these dynamics, Check Point adopts a dual-pronged approach focused on product innovation and fostering partnerships. From a product standpoint, our commitment lies in incessant innovation aimed at amplifying the value proposition for our customers. We strive to embed cutting-edge technologies into our product lines, ensuring they remain ahead of the curve. An illustrative example of this commitment is our recent launch, Check Point Infinity AI Co-Pilot. This security assistant harnesses the power of artificial intelligence and automation to streamline mundane tasks, thereby empowering customers to achieve more without inflating their total cost of ownership.

Behind the scenes, our product innovations are underpinned by over three decades of industry experience and a robust threat intelligence engine. This formidable foundation enables us to deliver products and solutions tailored to the precise needs of our customers, positioning us as a leader in malware prevention and detection.

On the partnership front, our focus pivots towards service excellence. Through extensive training initiatives, we equip partner professionals with the skills and expertise needed to support Check Point solutions effectively. This year, we’re intensifying our efforts by emphasising hands-on labs and creating centres of excellence. These initiatives aim to deepen technical proficiency, particularly in deploying and managing Check Point products within customer environments.

Recognising the challenges of resource scarcity and attrition within partner organisations, we’re committed to mitigating the cost burden associated with training and resource development. By offering discounted or even free training opportunities, we ensure that partners can continually upskill their workforce without compromising profitability.

Could you explain the rationale behind creating a separate program for MSSPs, especially considering the recent revamp of your partner program in January, while still maintaining the core approach of reaching out to partners and resource creation?

The changing consumption patterns among customers are evident for several reasons. Firstly, there’s a growing emphasis on simplicity in operations, aiming to achieve more with fewer resources. Secondly, there’s a shift from a capital expenditure (capex) model to an operational expenditure (opex) model, driven by considerations like total cost of ownership (TCO) and granularity in decision-making. These shifts underscore the significance of the services segment, which is witnessing steady growth across various organisations, not just limited to Check Point. It’s a strategic move for any OEM to align with customer demands and enhance support structures accordingly.

Recognising these trends, Check Point embarked on its Managed Security Service Provider (MSSP) program with full force last year. This initiative gained further momentum with the launch of the new generation partner program earlier this year. MSSP has emerged as a critical element within this broader program, enabling partners to expand their service portfolios around Check Point’s product lines. The objective is to offer end-to-end services and solutions to prospective customers, aligning closely with evolving market demands.
The MSSP program’s focus has intensified this year, driven by a surge in partner interest. Many partners see the value in aligning with Check Point’s MSSP program, particularly in areas where customers are transitioning to cloud-based services. The demand for consumption models akin to pay-as-you-go has become pronounced, mirroring consumer behaviour in other sectors such as telecommunications and OTT services.

Within the MSSP framework, Check Point caters to both appliance-based and software-based services through two main avenues. Firstly, there’s a strong emphasis on the pay-as-you-go model, reflecting the need for flexibility and cost efficiency among customers. Secondly, Check Point accommodates customers’ preferences for converting appliance costs into opex, offering leasing options as part of the MSSP portfolio. This dual approach ensures that partners can meet diverse customer requirements effectively, whether they prioritise consumption flexibility or cost management.

The MSSP program aligns closely with Check Point’s product ranges, particularly those with a strong cloud security focus. Solutions like the New Harmony SASE solution, email and collaboration security, and various cloud security products are tailored to meet customers’ evolving needs. The emphasis is on providing flexibility in consumption practices, breaking down costs to a monthly level and allowing customers to scale their usage accordingly.

Ultimately, the MSSP offerings aim to address customers’ demands for more flexible and tailored solutions. By providing pay-as-you-go options and leasing models, Check Point empowers partners to deliver services that align closely with customers’ evolving needs. The positive reception from partners underscores the growing importance of MSSP in meeting the dynamic requirements of the cybersecurity landscape. This approach not only benefits Check Point but reflects broader trends within the industry towards more agile and adaptable service provisioning.

Have you developed a specialised incentivisation program to attract more partners into the MSSP ecosystem, considering the increasing demand for service capabilities?

Certainly! The strategy outlined here encompasses several key areas aimed at incentivising partners and driving mutual success. Firstly, there’s a concerted effort to streamline the onboarding process for partners, ensuring it’s seamless and cost-free. By providing a complimentary enablement charter, partners can train their teams on relevant services, creating an additional revenue stream. Moreover, incentivising individual representatives within partner organisations ensures alignment with sales goals and customer needs. These measures aim to foster motivation and profitability throughout the partnership.

One significant focus lies in customer acquisition, with a dedicated rebate program for partners securing new clients. This initiative not only rewards effort but also encourages partners to actively pursue new business opportunities. Additionally, the new partner program introduces deal registration capabilities, amplifying financial benefits and enhancing competitiveness. Partners stand to gain both financially and technically through this integrated approach, thereby bolstering their chances of success within the market.

‘These efforts are unified under the overarching framework of the New Generation Partner Program (NGPP). Comprising three primary pillars—onboarding, day-to-day sales progression, and incentivisation—the program seeks to empower partners at every stage of their journey. By prioritising partner enablement, facilitating ongoing sales activities, and rewarding achievement, the NGPP aims to foster robust sales promotion and engagement.
The outlined strategy embodies a comprehensive approach to partner incentivsation within the sales ecosystem. By addressing various facets such as onboarding, sales progression, and rewards, the program aims to cultivate mutually beneficial partnerships, driving growth and success for all involved parties.

Do you anticipate the emergence of specialised partner streams, such as those ‘born in the cloud’ or ‘born in AI’, as we transition from a cloud-driven to an AI-driven world? And how pivotal will their role be in crafting mutually beneficial propositions for themselves and their partners?

In considering the evolution of partnerships in the context of AI, it’s important to note that we haven’t observed a distinct new category of partners emerging solely focused on AI. Instead, we see a continuation and evolution of the existing set of systems integration partners. These partners are diversifying and expanding their expertise to include AI and other new technologies. However, at the core, the fundamental requirements of cybersecurity expertise, such as network security, cloud security, and endpoint security, remain unchanged and essential.

The partners who already possess a strong foundation in cybersecurity are well-positioned to incorporate AI and machine learning into their offerings. These partners are investing in building technical resources and skills around AI, recognising it as a significant new area of growth and opportunity. They understand that AI is not a replacement for cybersecurity but an additional layer of technology that complements their existing expertise.

I believe that the majority, around 95%, of the ecosystem serving these needs will consist of existing partners who have successfully upskilled themselves in these new technologies. These partners have established relationships with customers, making it easier for them to introduce and implement AI solutions. They can leverage their technical proficiency in cybersecurity to convince customers of the benefits of adopting AI and other new technologies.

However, there will also be a smaller stream of new partners entering the ecosystem, similar to the emergence of born-in-cloud partners during the cloud adoption era. These new partners will specialise in AI and related fields, offering unique and specialised services to meet specific customer demands. While these partners may be fewer in number, they will play a valuable role in driving innovation and pushing the boundaries of what is possible in AI and machine learning applications.

Will it require significant efforts from global players like your organisation to develop these capabilities?

In product innovation and ecosystem development, the responsibility to lead the way rests heavily on us. We must cultivate a robust community of technically adept individuals across both our partner system and customer base. This entails a commitment to continuous innovation, ensuring that we integrate new technologies into our core solutions to stay ahead of the curve and effectively meet customer needs. As Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), it is incumbent upon us to create solutions that address the evolving demands and threat landscapes faced by our customers.

Today’s challenges extend far beyond the confines of the corporate IT environment. Geopolitical factors, as well as individuals motivated by various incentives, including financial gain, contribute to the complexity of the cybersecurity landscape. Moreover, the regulatory framework surrounding cybersecurity continues to evolve. Given these complexities, OEMs like us must serve as thought leaders, integrating new technologies and approaches into our solutions to effectively address these challenges.

By embracing this role, we can not only enhance the security of our offerings but also ensure that we are well-positioned to provide our customers with the solutions they need. This proactive approach allows us to not only respond to but also anticipate and mitigate emerging threats. In doing so, we can maintain a competitive edge and deliver greater value to our customers, thereby solidifying our position as a leader in the industry.

How have you developed an ecosystem to understand and meet the high-skill requirements from the government sector, ensuring alignment with national needs, considering the unique challenges of government deployments?

Over the past few years, there has been a remarkable increase in cybersecurity awareness among government departments, especially during the pandemic era. This heightened awareness is reflected in the significant cybersecurity investments made by not only the central government but also state governments. It is encouraging to see governments prioritise cybersecurity and allocate resources to address evolving threats, ensuring the safety and stability of their systems for citizens.

We have been actively collaborating with various government departments, including central ministries and defence portfolios, such as the Army and Air Force, to provide technological innovations and robust solutions. Our goal is to support them in enhancing their cybersecurity posture. We engage in continuous awareness campaigns, sharing insights on emerging threat vectors from around the world, leveraging our global exposure and partnerships. These efforts help government agencies stay proactive and prepared for potential cyber threats, considering their geopolitical context.

In addition to providing solutions, we conduct workshops and awareness sessions tailored to the specific needs of different government departments. These sessions enable them to understand and address cyber threats effectively, aligning their requirements with our capabilities. We also actively participate in government initiatives and events to reach a wider audience, both in state and central governments, fostering a culture of cybersecurity awareness.

One of our key initiatives is the annual publication of the cybersecurity report, a global overview of cyber threat trends. This report, based on research conducted by Check Point Research (CPR), our dedicated cybersecurity research arm, provides insights into the evolving threat landscape and informs government agencies and industries alike. By sharing these findings, we aim to help organisations improve their IT strategies and better protect against cyber threats.

Our engagement with government agencies goes beyond providing products and solutions; we strive to be cybersecurity evangelists, sharing intelligence and best practices to enhance the overall cybersecurity posture of the government.

How does your organisation prepare its partner ecosystem to engage in cybersecurity discussions with high-level executives, considering the shift towards a more global dialogue where CEOs and CFOs are increasingly involved in decision-making, prioritising business outcomes over mere product sales?

One of the key strategies we employ is to facilitate joint meetings where the entire workforce can address the requirements. This collective learning process occurs daily and allows us to continuously improve. Additionally, our Check Point products and solutions are supported by Infinity Services, an overarching platform that provides a single pane of management for customers to monitor and protect against threats across all areas. Partner engagement is crucial here, as they play a pivotal role in communicating these offerings to customers effectively.

In the unfortunate event of a malware attack or cyber incident, our Incident Response Team (IRT) swings into action. This service, coordinated by our partners, ensures swift on-site remediation and leverages our threat intelligence engine to provide solutions based on past incidents. This proactive approach helps us mitigate the impact of such events and protect our customers’ IT infrastructure effectively.

Enabling our partners to engage in boardroom conversations is another crucial aspect. We conduct regular enablement sessions to familiarise them with Check Point’s overarching story and its relevance to the board. Understanding how cybersecurity impacts business operations, market equity, and customer relations is vital for partners to articulate the value proposition effectively. We aim to provide partners with the necessary intelligence and insights to engage in meaningful conversations with customers, often accompanying them to key meetings to provide technical support and ensure a comprehensive understanding of our solutions.

Moreover, we offer a variety of training modules on our partner portal, free of cost, to support ongoing learning and development. These resources are readily accessible and help partners stay updated with the latest trends and solutions in cybersecurity. Overall, our approach is centred on empowering our partners with the knowledge and tools needed to address the evolving cybersecurity landscape effectively and provide value to our customers.

Last year, you added 150 Partners. So as of now, what’s the total strength?

In India, our network boasts approximately 800 registered partners, a figure we anticipate will surpass 1000 by the end of this year. To provide a deeper insight, on average, we engage with around 450 transacting partners. However, this number fluctuates as new partners join and some engage sporadically while others transact frequently. Currently, our ecosystem comprises over 800 partners, and we envision reaching the milestone of 1000 partners by the close of 2024. This growth reflects the expanding reach and impact of our network within the Indian market.

As we move into a new year, what will be your key priorities and how do you plan to achieve them efficiently?

The new partnership program brings several key differentiators that aim to enhance the channel strategy, investment, and communication processes. Beginning with the strategy aspect, there’s a significant emphasis on bolstering the channel organisations, marking a notable increase in investment. While specific figures aren’t disclosed, Check Point asserts itself as boasting one of the largest channel sales organisations in the industry. This investment aligns with the influx of partners experienced over the last year, reflecting a commitment to catering to a vast ecosystem.

In terms of investment, Check Point is doubling down on providing certifications to partners, streamlining the partner program, and enhancing partner technical support. This includes increasing the presence of technical personnel in the field to better serve customers and implementing a rewards system to ensure substantial profitability streams. Additionally, tools like a mobile app for partner engagement and access to Check Point intelligence and documentation aim to facilitate smoother interactions and empower partners with independence in customer interactions.

A notable shift in focus is observed from merely offering certifications to a more hands-on approach to partner technical enablement. This includes regular technical training sessions across the country, establishing a centre of excellence in Bangalore, and collaborating with distribution partners to create similar centres nationwide. Feedback mechanisms like partner advisory boards and trust surveys conducted quarterly ensure continuous improvement in partner engagement initiatives.

One significant change in the new generation partner program is the revamped deal registration process. Removing the previous minimum deal value threshold and doubling the financial benefits for partners with valid deal registrations represent major shifts. This not only provides partners with strategic advantages but also emphasises the importance of renewals, offering financial and lock-in advantages to incumbent partners.

The tiering process has been simplified in the new generation partner program, reducing from six tiers to four, based primarily on revenues and completion of certification requirements. Furthermore, specialisation has been introduced to cater to partners focusing on specific solution areas. Partners specialising in certain areas receive additional benefits such as discounts, differentiation factors, and improved visibility in the partner locator.

To enhance communication, a monthly newsletter has been introduced, updating partners on important developments and opportunities, both locally and globally. These changes aim to foster stronger relationships between Check Point and its partners, ensuring alignment with evolving market trends and customer needs.

The launch of the new generation partner program during CPX Bangkok in February received promising initial responses from partners, indicating a positive trajectory for the program’s success. Overall, these changes reflect Check Point’s commitment to empowering its partners and driving mutual growth and success in the cybersecurity domain.


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