Symantec’s Kevin Isaac tells us about his IT Life
Tell us about your company, how long have you been in IT and what are your areas of expertise?
I’ve been at Symantec for 16 years now, so I’m well versed in the security sector and my skills are in leadership and analytical management. Before that I spent five years in banking, five years in manufacturing and also ran a distribution company. So I’ve had the opportunity to be a vendor, a channel partner and a consumer of IT services which has given me empathy for our customers and hopefully a good understanding of their needs. However it’s also given me an appreciation of the fact that this isn’t just about IT for IT’s sake – we’re solving real business issues.
What motivates you right now?
Bringing together a team and building something new for the future. Being able to make a difference is also important and that’s what I like about cyber security – we protect everything from traffic lights to ATMs, power stations to televisions, because IT is behind everything now. We’ve got a responsibility to make everything work safely and protect people as they go about their daily lives. Seeing a team coming together around that mission is certainly motivating for me.
What has been your favourite project so far?
That would have to be building a start up in Africa. Seeing something develop and take off that you’ve created with your team is so exciting. I get the same feeling whenever we open new offices in markets across EMEA now – it’s all about taking the plunge, seeing things thrive and the legacy that you leave behind with the impact on the people around you.
What tech were you involved with ten years ago?
IT security, a space in which the last ten years have been very interesting indeed. We’ve seen big changes, going from a noisy, attention-seeking market, to an underground economy and now we’re in a period of highly developed criminal effort with fraud, hacktivism and advanced threats in play. It’s an interesting time to be in the sector and we’re still in a period of change now as the Internet of Things is taking off and the security challenges continue to grow.
What tech do you expect to be using in ten years’ time?
In the near future I think we’ll see more and more big data based platforms to help predict outcomes and risk, which is the holy grail of cyber security. The next stage will be to help you avoid getting your credit card details stolen, for example, by knowing at the point before it might happen and therefore mitigating any financial or data loss. In five years we’ll see this type of technology available, maturing in ten years and becoming more aggressive to help us get ahead of the cyber criminals rather than trying to keep up.
Who’s your tech hero?
Mark Shuttleworth. He’s a fellow Southern African and is a great example of an innovator and philanthropist helping to make a difference and save the world.
He created the Thawte certificate authority which was then sold to VeriSign and became part of Symantec, so we still protect all kinds of devices with the certificates he created. I admire him because of the wealth and technology he shared when he then also created Canonical and Ubuntu – a word which means ‘for the people’ in Africa, and is now a free operating system often used in cost-constrained environments and helps to bridge the digital divide.
He’s a tremendous example to live by, in that it’s all about making a difference to the people around you, particularly those who help to carry us along the way.
Who’s your tech villain?
The uninformed CXO. The biggest challenge that our customers have is in educating their executives on the IT challenges at hand. I see it as a bit like driving a car without a license if your board is uninformed – you need a good chauffeur instead in the form of consultancy.
I often talk to CXOs that don’t understand the need for security. Even some of most educated are afraid of it because of all the changes we’ve seen in the last few years. Data centres often get large budgets for backup, flashing lights and spinning disks, but security is almost a grudge purchase sometimes, seen as an add-on at the final stage, an approach that can end up hurting companies.
What’s your favourite technology ever made? Which do you use most?
Apple. I’m very into tech and this began with my Psion organiser in the 80s, but Apple is so prevalent now and if there’s a piece of technology I touch every day it’s undoubtedly made by Apple – I couldn’t do without it both at work and at home.
What’s the greatest challenge for an IT company/department today?
Avoiding ‘tick box IT’ is definitely a challenge at the moment. One of the big risks in business right now is the need to comply with requirements and standards – it’s not about just acquiring technology, making do and ticking that box, but it’s important to ensure we get it right, particularly when there’s so much at stake.
It’s also challenging for CIOs to prioritise what’s important over the ‘noise’. They need to focus on what they need to do to make a difference, rather than being a ‘jack of all trades’. CIOs are told to reduce costs, improve efficiency and competitive advantage, but all the while with shrinking budgets and resource, so it’s hard to balance priorities. As a result, companies need to consolidate advisors and listen to the right people to make sure they’re choosing their focuses carefully. In doing that, you can hopefully get away from tick box IT at the same time.
Apart from your own, which company do you admire the most and why?
Emirates for their quality of service, fast growth and positive attitude which is second to none. They are certainly the most innovative airline I’ve interacted with and a very agile business, which is refreshing and inspirational for their size – for example, upgrades are simple even once you’re on the plane and it takes three minutes to arrange via an iPad.
To Cloud or not to Cloud?
To cloud is inevitable I think, but certainly not easy. I like to think of cloud as a huge wave rolling across the world’s beach – people are trying to put up sea defences between different countries, which may turn out to be a good or a bad thing, but we definitely need to figure out how to manage that.
We’ll see the EU go on a massive journey to try and find a way round this conundrum of managing the internet and privacy laws over the next five years. But if we end up with private clouds in every country, how will we communicate and manage cross border trade?
What did you want to be when you were a child?
I’ve always wanted to be successful through reputation and making a difference, hence my personal motto of: “Success is about people, people are the result of relationships and relationships are built with effort.” I care what people think about me, particularly my parents, and protecting my own ‘brand’ is very important to me.
Kevin Isaac is senior vice president, EMEA, at Symantec
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