LANDesk Software CEO talks up 'end user in' strategy

It's the best way to manage today's mobile and diverse computing environment, says Steve Daly

For Steve Daly, CEO of LANDesk Software, success in managing and securing your IT environment is all a matter of perspective. Daly believes that LANDesk's strategy of managing from the "end user in" -- as opposed to the traditional "data center out" approach -- gives the company a big edge in controlling an increasingly mobile and diverse computing environment. LANDesk, which was launched in 1985 and has been part of Intel Corp., Avocent and Emerson Electric, was acquired by investment firm Thoma Bravo LLC in 2010.

In this installment of the IDG Enterprise CEO Interview Series, Daly talked to IDGE Chief Content Officer John Gallant about how Thoma Bravo is fueling LANDesk's expansion, the "Big Bang" that IT shops are facing and why, despite their desire to so, many IT organizations aren't ready to automate operations.

Explain the company mission and key elements of the LANDesk product line. We try to help IT gain control of their end user environments. There's a lot of talk in the industry about things related to the data center and there are a lot of big companies trying to solve those problems. But what we've recognized is that a lot of the problems start out at end point devices, the things that are out there in the wild. Our mission is to help IT get control of those devices.

We do that in three areas. One is around what we call systems management. We give them a view of what's out there -- all of those assets, the software that's running out there, what they're trying to do with those assets -- through our systems management tools. Then we help them secure it all in the wild. And then we give IT the service management tools that allow them to put more power in the hands of the end users to solve problems for themselves.

You compete against some pretty big management and security companies. How do you differentiate yourself? First of all, when we go out there, we talk about end point. We talk about the end user environment. We don't come in with a big grand strategy about how we're going to automate your cloud infrastructure and all of that kind of stuff. It really is a focus on that end point, an endpoint-in sort of a management strategy.

If you're looking at this from the data center out, it's a failed model for management. Because if you think about it, you have these end points and you have these users out here, and part of the time they're looking back into your data center. They're trying to do stuff back inside the corporate firewall. Part of the time they're connecting to a public infrastructure that you know about, such as using But a big part of the time they are connecting to a public infrastructure and you have no idea what they're doing.

I do it with my iPad today. I'm out surfing stuff; I'm downloading stuff. If you take a view that you're just going to manage from the corporate firewall and just try to control that thing from here, you've failed. The pivot point for all of this is the end point. So that's how we're different than the big guys that are focused on the data-center-out as the key point instead of the endpoint-in.

The other thing is we believe we are really positioned to be the next-generation IT platform for managing those end points. From a technical perspective, from the way that we manage those devices, it's very infrastructure light. We try to take advantage of whatever infrastructure you have in place, whether it's public or it's your own or any of that.

Explain "infrastructure light." A great example is we have a customer that is a huge conglomerate; they have about 110,000 employees spread out worldwide. They were using one of our competitors to manage all of these end points. It took them 256 servers just to keep the management and security application up and running. When they moved to LANDesk, they were able to do that with 25 servers -- an order of magnitude difference.

We try to take advantage of your existing infrastructure. For example, instead of you having to install a server out at that branch office, we'll assign one of the laptops or the desktops that we're managing to be that representative. It can take care of a lot of the management in that branch office and we don't have to install extra hardware to be able to do it.

We have a peer downloading technology. So instead of going back to the corporate office, instead of having to go all the way back to Phoenix to where the IT department is to get information, [clients] can go to their neighbors and say, "Do you have this? Do you have that?" and look for it and suck it in. You're using the existing infrastructure to be able to take care of those distributed devices.

If you were to identify one, two, three things that make LANDesk unique, what would they be? I'd say the first thing is that we manage better in a distributed environment than anybody else. Again, it's using that existing infrastructure. The second thing is that we are focused on that end point. And then the third is we have a very big focus on customer service and having a customer-focused strategy.

We have a big luxury goods company in Paris that we won for our security and systems management. And I asked them why they didn't go with our competitor -- at that point we were competing against Microsoft. Why did you go with us? He said "Look, I did my research. We've dealt with these big guys in the past. I know that I'm going to get a better relationship with you. We have more of a partnership." So the third piece is using our size as an advantage to be able to work better with the customer.

I love the name of this company: Thoma Bravo, the private equity company that in 2010 acquired LANDesk from Emerson and also owns SonicWall. It sounds like an action figure. Explain to readers the whole process of rolling out of Emerson and becoming a standalone company. What's the benefit to the customer for that? And then Thoma Bravo talks about a buy-and-build investment strategy, how are they helping you invest and build? We started the spin-out process at the first of the year last year and we closed the deal at the end of September. So it was a very challenging time. If nothing else, it took a lot of focus of the management team to get that process done. The reason we went through that process is that Avocent was acquired by Emerson Electric. Avocent had a desktop-to-data center strategy, but Emerson really bought Avocent to focus on the data center and their strategy within the data center. The endpoint part of that wasn't key to their strategy, so they recognized upfront that they wanted to spin it out. Kudos to them for recognizing and saying let's get on with this process.

We met with a lot of different potential buyers. The thing that really attracted the management team to Thoma Bravo was this idea of buy/build. They have a history of buying platform companies and then looking for opportunities to consolidate and build upon the platform. LANDesk is a platform company for Thoma Bravo and they're bringing us a lot of deal flow, as well as ideas and opportunities to begin the process of doing the roll up and consolidating around this idea of endpoint management.

I'm not sure I get what you mean by that. What are they helping you to do and how are they helping you expand in a way you wouldn't be able to otherwise? The first thing is they've given us the investment to go faster. The second thing is that they have a lot of insight into potential acquisitions and M&A, so they're bringing a lot of deal flow to us, again, with this idea of adding on to our capability of serving our customer.

What do you deliver for endpoint security? The way we look at endpoint security is, again, with the goal that we want our team to be able to control that end-user environment. We look at things like asset management. It's around data management, so we treat data as an asset. We basically give IT the flexibility, the control of this device while leaving the user with some flexibility to be able to do the job. So we can do things like shut down your USB ports. We can encrypt anything that you save off to a USB device so it doesn't get lost. We have a partnership with Kaspersky Labs and we can do anti-virus, those types of things. But a lot of what we do looks and smells a lot like systems management. We take the data that we gather as part of our systems management, you know what's on the device, what version, and compare that to a safe state. If it's out of compliance, we'll send software down, we'll patch it, we'll do all of that to the endpoint device. In my mind, it's hard to separate systems and security management because so much of what you do is common between those two.

Talk about the latest release of your service desk product and what the benefits are for the customer. You've said this is a new-generation product. What does that mean and what do you mean when you say that it's more 'user centric'? In the past, when IT worried about me, they worried about keeping Steve's laptop up and running or safe or secure, helping to troubleshoot it at the laptop. Now I've got my iPhone, I've got my iPad, I have my laptop out in the car. Now, it becomes a much more difficult task for IT to try to gain control of me. The reality is IT cannot get involved every time I have a problem, which is the old model of management. If you've got a problem, you can enter a trouble ticket, take it to IT and I'll solve it for you.

So with the latest release of service desk, we've put a lot of innovation around how do we give the user more power, in the form of self-service portals that allow the user to solve their own problem without IT having to get involved. We have automation built in. We have a workflow automation or management automation platform that integrates with that to automate some of those tasks.

We have the service catalog, which allows IT to publish the services you can get from IT. It's all integrated with our systems and security management products. If somebody were to go to the service catalog and request the full-blown version of Acrobat Reader, in the background when you click on that button, our workflow will automatically send an email to your manager. And if your manager responds and says it's okay, then it kicks off a process and installs it on your laptop without IT ever having to get involved.

The idea behind that kind of next-generation service desk is to give the user the power; give the user the ability to solve their own problems and get IT out of that and focusing on other strategic initiatives within the company.

Let's go into more depth about automation, which is a big goal for our readers. Talk about how you're helping with that. What's the overall automation strategy? Again, the idea is how we put more power in the hands of the end user to solve their problems. Our management automation platform is built on a process automation engine that we used to sell. Essentially, we've integrated it now into all of our products so that together the products can work to solve problems like that one that I just talked about. In order to do that, it takes service desk, it takes management suite, and it takes human intervention. The engine controls all of those processes. And the nice thing about it is you can insert at any point a human intervention in the process. We find that people are afraid of full automation; they're afraid the system will get out of control if they don't have check points within the process. So we built that into the workflow automation part of it.

How does mobile change the opportunity for the company and how does it change the challenge for the IT department? It's a huge challenge for IT. I like to call it The Big Bang because we started out very concentrated. We had mainframe computers and IT had total control. I mean for heaven's sake, you had to call up and get processing time if you want to use your computer, right?

We went through this phase where we started to become distributed, where we started to have desktops and you had Novell taking off to connect them. That's when LANDesk came into being. It was part of Intel at the time. We saw that if we didn't get control of the total cost of owning all of these distributed devices, it could be a potential inhibitor to microprocessor sales. That's really the genesis of LANDesk. So we came out with the first desktop management suite. We licensed it to Novell. We licensed technology to Microsoft. We kicked off the Desktop Management Task Force (DMTF), which is now the Distributed Management Task Force.

We did a lot of things about enabling the industry to get control, but now you look back and it looks really simple because the next wave we saw was that laptops came into vogue and it was not just about answering Steve's question when he was in the office but now Steve is in the Marriott in Sydney, Australia and has to get that problem fixed. And we launched technology then to help IT manage in the public infrastructure.

We called it an Internet gateway that allowed them to not have to open up a VPN connection and be able to manage wherever and whenever they needed to. Now what we see happening is the next phase.

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