Another year goes by: Our 20th

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Last month we regaled you with our 20th anniversary celebration. Now, as we look at 2009, we see some really interesting developments. We are coming off the worst economic conditions in a very long time and one would think that innovation would take a serious hit in the process. Not so at all.

After 20 years in the business of keeping you informed, we certainly have seen an ebb and flow of just about every trend in technology, the economy and, specifically, the information security business. Three years ago, when we started the December Innovators issue, we thought that it would be good to poke the industry a bit and say, figuratively, anyway, “Hey! There really is some good stuff going on here. And here are some samples. Watch these folks over the coming year!”

This really was a “be careful what you wish for” situation. Last year we thought, “Well, last year was pretty good. Let's try it again.” We did, you liked it, and here we go once more. You will see some very interesting developments this year. First, and most interesting, is the mix of companies that made our top Innovators list.

There are some that have been with us for one year and a few which have been with us the past two years. But there are some new entries. As the SC Lab team was looking over this year's possibilities, we found that almost all of our previous choices were worthy of another year. But we also found that there were upstarts that edged the old guard out in some cases – but only edged them out by a bit.

We love it when this happens! What it tells us is that our industry – recession or no – is vibrant and there are many new developments to which we need to pay attention. Next year will be very interesting for yet another reason: IPOs are starting to build again after years in the doldrums. Combine an increase in IPOs – however slow – with the usual convergence that goes with mergers and acquisitions, and we are very likely to see an entirely different batch of innovators. Back to the present, though.

This year, we have a solid five categories that mirror last year's groupings. But we also have a new one and a special mention that was completely unexpected. As we were going through possible entrants this year, we found a very traditional company that is completely re-engineering itself and the results may end up being spectacular. They certainly will be worth watching over the next couple of years. More on that as we fill out this special section. However, suffice it to say at this point that if one wants to discuss innovation from the business perspective, these professionals certainly belong in the mix.

As in previous years, our formula for selection was a mix of technical and business innovation. The technical aspects, of course, are pivotal as we look at the information security market. But building a better security mouse trap is a futile exercise if you cannot get it to market. We have seen some spectacular products that never made it to market because the business innovation did not measure up to the technical innovation.

This year we had giant killers, stealth marketers and some who carved a unique niche exploiting, in some cases, Ray Noorda's notion of "coopetition." I even heard that term used several times in my interviews with top execs at these companies. That was unique for me. I rarely have heard that as a uniform marketing strategy. Over the last two years, the strategies have been different. But this year, times, as they say, are tough. And tough times demand tough approaches. Believe me, in the case of these companies, it's working.

Mergers are hot as well. But these mergers often have the unique characteristic of not being mergers of companies, but, rather, mergers of technologies. These take several forms, ranging from licensing the technology into a product or product line marketed by a larger, better branded company to the wholesale assignment of white label marketing rights.

We saw a couple of acquisitions, but they were not common. The mania of big companies to buy everything in sight and grow by acquisition seems to be on hold as a general approach. There used to be a common practice of acquiring, absorbing the technology (or the parts of the technology that were useful to the acquirer), and dumping the rest of the company, including most of the employees. That seems to be abating.

Finally, we saw what we hoped to see these past few years but haven't: the reduction of off-shoring in the development community. To be sure the practice still is alive and, by some accounts well. But for the first time, more than one of our selected innovators told me – in response to my questions about innovative business practices – that their products were developed and built 100 percent in America by American developers.

That in itself is worth a celebration. There even was one company that was very proud of the fact that it has had zero turnover or layoffs since its inception several years ago. These are the real heroes of our industry. And they are proving that it is possible to return America to its position as the world's innovator in technology. Information security technology, anyway. So, as I say every year: Enjoy!




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