AirWatch CEO: We'll be the breakout market leader in mobile management

AirWatch has emerged as one of the clear leaders in mobile device managment (MDM), but the company faces numerous challenges, including a rapidly evolving market that's moving away from simply managing devices and toward more complicated control of apps and data.

John Marshall, Airwatch
Credit: Airwatch

In this installation of the IDG Enterprise CEO Interview Series, Chief Content Officer John Gallant talks to AirWatch CEO John Marshall about the company's approach toward mobile, its $225 million in venture funding, and its new Content Locker product, which aims to help enterprises control data access from devices.

Some highlights:

  • How enterprise demands are changing: "Most companies were not building internal apps two or three years ago. They were leveraging a couple of public apps off the stores and getting efficiency in that regard. Now enterprises are quickly seeing the benefit and the value of extending the workflow of all of their other software systems and all of their other IT investments, and doing that by building internal apps, by linking in SharePoint, or their file servers, creating new ways to promote training material and collaboration with suppliers and partners."
  • How the MDM market will shake out: "I think there will probably be three or four strong players. There's not room for 15 or 20. Nobody wants to buy security from the fifth, or seventh or 20th best company in the space....You'll see some acquisitions that will continue, but the focus that we have will continue to differentiate. As acquisitions are done you typically have a brain drain, you lose a little bit of focus, and this space does not have a strong track record of integrating acquisitions."
  • Growth plans: "We have over 7,000 customers that are driving our platform every day. We're adding 500 customers a month, and we have 1,300 people dedicated to simplifying enterprise mobility....We expect to grow to well over 2,000 people. We expect to do some initial acquisitions of adjacent technologies that are very complementary."
  • Why he believes AirWatch will be the "breakout" leader: "We have not taken the approach of partnering and cobbling together lots of these different technologies. We have our own app graphing. We have our own app technology. We have our own content and file sharing solution....It's very difficult to cobble these things together because that creates security risks and flaws in itself. And we fully see ourselves as being the breakout market leader just like salesforce.com, or just like a LinkedIn."

Here's the full interview:

Give us the one-minute overview of what does AirWatch does and the unique value you bring to the market.

AirWatch helps enterprises manage and enable their entire fleet of mobile devices. Our mission is to simplify enterprise mobility. It's a broad statement, but our customers are fundamentally changing their business practices at a pace never seen before. They don't start a mobility project thinking about security. They start by finding ways to streamline their business, share information in real time internally or with their business partners and change business processes. It's our job to enable enterprises to meet these objectives while protecting their data, their content and all their access to internal and corporate resources.

Companies, first and foremost, think of security and IP protection. They're generally the highest concerns. Most people think of security as policies, profiles and containerization, but we go way beyond that. Security goes hand in hand with enablement, governance policies, and enterprise integration. We've created a platform that allows enterprises to create and deliver apps, content, launch BYOD, all while abstracting complexity from the end user. Our job is to make sure that we secure and manage all of this information and content in a way that's easy for IT administrators and end users.

You're operating in a pretty crowded market, with specific competitors like Good Technology and others, as well as some bigger companies that have mobile security and management solutions. How do you approach this is a way that makes what you do unique from all of these other folks that are talking about mobility management?

It's important to first realize that this isn't a space that you can just jump into, even if you're a big company. We have a long background and we were in early stages going through Windows Mobile Rugged, and then in the very early companies that adopted the iOS platform. So there is an important value of growing up and creating the depth and breadth. It's not about lock and wipe anymore. It's not about a couple of policies. The strength of what we do is that we have over 7,000 customers that are driving our platform every day.

We're adding 500 customers a month, and we have 1,300 people dedicated to simplifying enterprise mobility. That in general is two or three times the size of staff of most of our competitors, even the bigger companies that are involved in the space when you're looking at their core resources on mobility. Mobility requires depth and breadth to be able to secure every platform, every device, every operating system, but also integrate with every one of these ecosystem partners, do it globally, and do it with every one of the variations around content and data. That fundamentally drives our differentiation.

Let's just take one example that people know, a company like Good. Be specific in terms of how you approach this differently than Good.

Originally Good was all about just protecting email. So they focused on containerization strategy simply protecting email. Our focus was much broader than that. Our focus was around the entire device, but much more than the device, all of the application and content information on that, so tying in the SharePoint, allowing people to deploy enterprise apps, integrating with their certificates, their NAC, their AD LDAP, all of these corporate infrastructure elements. That creates a very broad platform with flexibility, as opposed to just one element of containerization around email.

This market is evolving. Initially, it was very focused on the device, now it seems to be much more focused on managing apps and content. What does this mean for IT buyers and what kinds of things should they be aware of as this market evolves?

The market quickly evolved past just the device. It started with the core elements of lock and wipe and passcode protection on the device, but the real value in mobility is not protecting the device. The value is protecting the information and the access to corporate resources.

Most companies were not building internal apps two or three years ago. They were leveraging a couple of public apps off the stores and getting efficiency in that regard. Now enterprises are quickly seeing the benefit and the value of extending the workflow of all of their other software systems and all of their other IT investments, and doing that by building internal apps, by linking in SharePoint, or their file servers, creating new ways to promote training material and collaboration with suppliers and partners. This is very different than, I would say, simply looking at lock and wipe and basic passcode policies. This is all about extending a platform that enables these different infrastructures.

So what are the key things IT managers need to think about or do differently than they're doing today?

Some IT companies are still in the early stages of making purchases, and they're looking at a simple RFP that has a checklist without truly getting into the depth of where they want to go with their mobility strategy over the next couple of years. I think this space is evolving too quickly to simply look at the checklist on an RFP without understanding your mobile strategy, gathering information from your global constituents, and defining where you want to be.

On the other side of the spectrum we have customers that have been deploying mobility and creating these apps and creating this content integration for the last two or three years, and they are fundamentally looking two or three years out now, at how their enterprises are going to have a different strategy, even around bring-your-own-laptop, around how they deploy apps, around consumerization. So there is generally a big split and the first-time buyers, my recommendation is still to really look farther ahead and go past the basics, and how you're going to scale this out to not just your internal users, but how you're going to interact with your suppliers, your vendors and your different mobility strategies.

We've watched various iterations of the management market over decades, and generally there's a need or a problem that emerges and a number of management companies spring up to address that. But over time they're either integrated into another company or they become the integrator in bringing together a broader suite of management capabilities. Which one is AirWatch going to be, and how will you approach that?

Our focus is to be the market leader and [have] a philosophy of "built to last." In this space I believe that the companies that are getting acquired probably didn't have that same mentality when they first started. It's important to realize that we've been building all of the steps in terms of the global organization. We have 500 people outside North America. We have 300 people dedicated in service and support. We built our own direct sales team and now we complement that really well with the channel. We have not taken the approach of partnering and cobbling together lots of these different technologies. We have our own app graphing. We have our own app technology. We have our own content and file sharing solution. We've done all of this in a fully integrated platform approach.

Again, I go back to the point that it's very difficult to catch up, and it's very difficult to cobble these things together because that creates security risks and flaws in itself. And we fully see ourselves as being the breakout market leader just like salesforce.com, or just like a LinkedIn. There's room for a breakout company like AirWatch.

The related question is that you have pulled together quite the portfolio of venture funding now with, I think it's $225 million. How are you going to use that money?

Most people raise money and they start to accelerate product development or expand globally. We've already been doing that for the last two or three years. Because we have the largest customer base in the industry, because we've built and delivered solutions for some of the largest global projects, that means we have strong cash flow. We have not raised funding up to this point. The critical nature of that is when we raised that funding we took on the best and brightest partners, in terms of Insight [Venture Partners] and Accel [Partners], that had the vision of building and helping to realize our mission of becoming that breakout company. We're fully aligned with our strategy, and that is now to accelerate our platform, to look at adjacent technologies that we can tuck in, and to continue again our global growth. We see this as more of the same in terms of our execution, and then really accelerating the strength of the platform and the adjacent technologies.

Over time, do you expect the stronger competition to come from, say, big security companies that augment technologies they already have? Is it service providers, or is it other big management vendors, the IBM types of the world?

I think there will probably be three or four strong players. There's not room for 15 or 20. Nobody wants to buy security from the fifth, or seventh or 20th best company in the space.

The other side is it takes a lot of R&D from not just a company like AirWatch, but also from the ecosystem members. The strength of our platform is the integration to all of the different internal IT systems as well as every device manufacturer and every operating system. Those companies also don't have infinite resources to fully align and cooperate with 50 different companies. So naturally you're going to get down to three, four or five companies that will be the market leaders. I think it will be a combination company like AirWatch as a breakout. You'll see some acquisitions that will continue, but the focus that we have will continue to differentiate. As acquisitions are done you typically have a brain drain, you lose a little bit of focus, and this space does not have a strong track record of integrating acquisitions. The companies that have done acquisitions in general have struggled a little bit and have taken time to really gain market share, and it's just a difficult space. Execution is very important.

Would you ever expect that any of the device manufacturers themselves would become strong players here? It seems unlikely that Apple would, given that it doesn't focus on the enterprise, but Samsung has been more vocal and more focused on security. Is that a market that you would expect a company like that would ever enter?

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