Symantec refocuses, Clickmango exits and firms seek talent

Robin Bloor and his team this week put security software firm Symantec under the spotlight, consider Clickmango's failure, and look at how to meet the demand for IT skills...

Robin Bloor and his team this week put security software firm Symantec under the spotlight, consider Clickmango's failure, and look at how to meet the demand for IT skills...

It's still out there and still making money, but who knows just what Symantec is up to these days. The truth is that this is a company trying to change its image as a supporter of home users by taking on the mantle of enterprise security expert. The time may soon be here when we can all admit to using Symantec products without fear of ridicule. Symantec has been responsible for a long series of good quality products and many organisations have taken advantage. The fact they have been cheap to buy and have often targeted small business or home user markets has allowed some to question their usefulness - a problem Microsoft struggled with for a while but eventually got over. Symantec's product strategy is divided into three areas - enterprise, small business and home. However, the latter two revolve predominantly around Norton Antivirus software, Winfax and pcANYWHERE for remote control. Until recently, the enterprise view was similar with the addition of firewalls, crashguards and similar technology. At the end of July, Symantec acquired Axent Technologies for about $975m and, in so doing, gained a significant foothold in the enterprise security market. On its own, Symantec would have expected revenues around $750m, but the expectations for the combined business is $1bn for the year to March 2001. By that time, it expects to be receiving more than 60 per cent of its revenues from enterprise customers and to continue expanding beyond that. New security solutions will include content filtering, intrusion detection, vulnerability assessment and firewall features, in addition to the continued strength of the Antivirus solution. For the first time, Symantec will become deeply involved in the provision of services for the delivery of its security solutions. It needs to overcome the problems that come with the integration of two quite different businesses but it seems Symantec is changing market perception of its activities. * Clickmango.gone * Clickmango.com, the UK-based health products ecommerce site, will close on Monday 11 September with the loss of 18 jobs, having burned all of its £3m launch money. This news follows the failure to find a backer for additional funding. The possible demise of the site, founded by Toby Rowland, son of industrialist Tiny Rowland, and fronted by actress Joanna Lumley, was announced on 31 July and received more publicity than the site launch in April this year. Rather than follow the boo.com route into insolvency, Clickmango has decided to stop trading and pay off creditors and staff before falling into financial collapse. While this is an admirable course of action, the high profile collapse of another company must concern the online retail sector. The poor flotation of lastminute.com, the questionable profitability of Amazon, the boo collapse and now this latest failure can only increase the scepticism of the stock markets and the general public in technology related shares. Not all searches for backing come to the sorry end of Clickmango. SimplyOrganic.com, a site that delivers organic produce to customers at home or work, recently raised a further £1m. Bricks and mortar company Marks and Spencer is hoping to gain further ground in the B2C marketplace with its recent announcement of partnerships in both the internet, through MSN and Beeb.com, and interactive TV platforms, through Telewest and Open. It is also aiming to develop its existing delivery service, introduced for the direct shopping catalogue, into a fully integrated supply chain by next summer. Contrary to some reports, online retail and B2C aren't finished. There will be those that fall by the wayside and those that go from strength to strength and flourish. The bricks and mortar companies have the advantage of established brands and experience. Rather than going head-to-head with such companies as boo, the clicks and mortar companies must innovate, add value and find areas of the market that established companies have not or indeed cannot exploit. Who will be the overall winner? We'll have to wait and see. But with increased product choice and competitive pricing, the consumer should be certain of a Happy Christmas. * Even the skills cloud has a silver lining * Complaints of skills shortages, or arguments as to whether there really are any, are as perennial as neglect of training. It's an area where a touch of original thinking would be welcome and the signs are that this is at last coming. And some of it is even happening in the UK. A claimed breakthrough initiative in internet learning comes from Norway, backed by the Norwegian Federation of Trade Unions and the Confederation of Norwegian Business and Industry. Called the 'Competence Network', it aims to provide life-long training nationwide, with 40 content providers offering customised or off-the-shelf modules to affiliated organisations, who pay for the training selected for their employees. Internet-based learning is hardly new. What is new about this initiative is that it is a co-operative and nationwide venture backed by both sides of industry and involving the academic establishment as well. The claimed aim is a suitably upbeat "universal participation in the new economy" and an attempt to position Norway at the forefront of ecommerce. Which is not unlike the stated aim of our own government for various initiatives, although without necessarily the same imagination shown and mostly with a much higher price tag than the £1.5m it has taken to launch Norway's www.nkn.no. In launching this initiative, the developers of the 'Competence Network' cite the need to address problems specific to Norway, such as most companies having fewer than 20 employees and thus not being able to afford inhouse training. But the same could be said of the UK. The vast majority of UK companies have fewer than 20 employees too. So why don't we have a similar network? There are smaller examples of imaginative thinking. Microchip design group ARM has been struggling for some time to find the people with the talent it needs. So it has designed its own degree, in co-operation with Loughborough University, resulting in a four-year part-time Masters course. The company is not particularly small (525 employees) but is hardly large by UK standards. Even so, it had been forced to look overseas for recruitment and, in creating the four-year course, is taking a long-term view. Other larger UK companies could be expected to do the same. So, we either look forward to more imaginative thinking about skills shortages and training or we continue as before, with the perennial arguments. Let's hope it's the former. For more analysis, see http://www.it-director.com