Innovation and trust

Adam Louca, chief technologist for security at Softcat, and Nico Fischbach, CTO at Forcepoint, talk to Comms Business about their relationship and the need for user-centred security solutions.

Softcat and Forcepoint have a long-standing partner relationship and have successfully delivered projects across Forcepoint’s portfolio to over 700 customers. Enduring partnerships don’t just happen, so the two companies have clear ideas about what factors have helped maintain their relationship.

Adam Louca, chief technologist for security at Softcat (pictured above, left), explained, “Good partnership is based on a few things. It’s based on trust; we have to trust each other, and we have to know that we are working together to deliver customer benefit. Fundamentally, as a partner and as a reseller, you don’t make anything.

“What you own is the customer relationship, the voice of the customer and the understanding that you want to help that customer on an ongoing basis to achieve wherever their business [requires]. You are relying on and you trust your partners to help you deliver the right technology solutions to help your customers address the challenges they’re having. So that’s the first pillar for me: trust.

“The second bit is around innovation. We need partners who are able to not only help us address the problems customers have today, but [who can] help us address the problems of tomorrow. [That includes] the problems that our customers maybe haven’t even perceived as being problems yet. Organisations like Forcepoint help us innovate by addressing emerging areas. And the last piece is somebody who’s open to listening.

“Partnership isn’t always easy. A good partnership is based upon the ability to have challenging conversations with each other. To say these are the areas that need to be improved on, or this is where we don’t think that you’re quite helping customers. Having a partner who will listen to that and who will use their power, their expertise, their skills to hear what you say and [address areas where] they’re not quite where they need to be.”

Nico Fischbach, CTO at Forcepoint (pictured above, right), agreed with Louca that trust, innovation and listening are foundational to good partnerships. He added that “partnership needs to exist at all levels”, pointing to his close relationship with Louca as reseller and vendor CTOs. This, Fischbach explained, needs to be mirrored across the partnership. Vendor-side solution architects need to have meaningful relationships with reseller-side solution architects, vendor sales engineers need to work together with their equivalents in the partner organisation, and so on.

Trust and control

Softcat frequently uses Forcepoint solutions to solve customer problems. Cybersecurity is continually evolving and Louca discussed the direction the industry is moving towards. He said, “The eternal challenge for security is that balance between trust and control. As an industry, we haven’t always got it right. We have potentially built solutions for security people, not for people who were doing their jobs and trying to execute on their goals. We’ve often made technologies that interrupt the user and we haven’t truly taken the time to understand what’s important to the user and understand the behaviour of that user.”
Adopting this user-centred approach, Louca explained, “allows us to stop fighting so much, because the user gets a better experience but, from the other side, the security team has all the context and all the data points that they need to make the right decisions”.

Fischbach explained how Forcepoint’s solutions allow the approach to security that Louca described to become a reality. He said that, in the past, “everything was very binary, you either block or you allow, and there’s nothing in between”. Forcepoint has pioneered an approach called “risk adaptive protection” which looks at the context, the behaviour and analytics to assess the risk.

The role of the CTO

Louca and Fischbach have roles that mirror each other in many ways, but there are of course some clear distinctions between their responsibilities. Louca explained, “The CTO role within a partner is very different to that within a vendor. For me, my role really focuses on ensuring that Softcat evolves and is able to support and help our customers in the ways that they’re asking us to. We have to evolve the proposition to stay relevant, and the way we do that is by listening to our customers, by understanding what’s happening in the market, and then making sure that we’re working with the right technology providers to have the right portfolio of capabilities.”

He added that he also ensures customer feedback is captured so he can work with partners to address any gaps that might be emerging. Vendor-partnership relationships, Louca said, are symbiotic in that “we both need each other to fully grow and realise opportunities”.

Fischbach said that vendor-side CTO roles vary drastically according to the vendor’s size, and he spends half of his time out in the field, acting as a trusted adviser with clients. He added that a year ago, he asked to step back into heading up some engineering functions as he was “missing the execution side”. Now, he has a responsibility for Forcepoint’s Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) product which means he can “have my hands in the dirt to get a little bit more and be more in control of outcomes”.

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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine