We always enjoy the annual Innovators issue because it gives us a chance to see things that will define our industry in the future. Some products were born in the R&D labs within larger companies and eventually saw the light of day because what they accomplished was important to the company. Some were the reason that smaller companies were founded. Whatever the source, we are interested. Each year we seek out the best of the bunch and highlight them.
One interesting thing that happened this year as we were interviewing Innovators was that we were asked what our process is for selecting an Innovator. That was not remarkable for the question so much as for the number of times it was asked. So, it seems appropriate that we elucidate a bit here.
After deciding the product categories that proved critical to the industry during the past year and/or showed some growth and development worth covering, we create lists of potential candidates in each that are further narrowed or fattened. The decisions that get us to the representative lists for each category are based on product reviews we have conducted, conversations with industry contacts we've had over the last 12 months, and an overall knowledge of and experience working in the industry.
With that, we pretty much have some solid Innovators lined up. In the past, we have found it necessary to create a new category occasionally, just as we did when cloud security started to take off. We add it along with the appropriate companies that deemed the move necessary. My editors and I look at the lists and offer any further commentary, if appropriate. Once we have the final rundown, we make contact with each vendor to set up interviews, which I conduct.
That said, what else did we learn in general this year? First, big companies are back in the game. Competition is hot – and that means that differentiators are critical to market share. Today's customers are a savvy lot, perhaps the most savvy in recent years. They know the problems they want to solve and they know what risks they need to mitigate. They ask tough questions and marketing hype is not going to win the day for vendors with weak products.
Along with innovation comes uniqueness. Uniqueness is a double-edged sword. On one hand it says that our Innovators are thoroughly understanding the problem that they are trying to solve. On the other, it often results in products that don't fit well in any given category. Potential customers often feel the need to cluster these new products together with something with which they are familiar. That doesn't always work well. As a result, the Innovator finds itself forced by the market to attempt to differentiate against products that are not really intended to do what theirs accomplishes.
We can draw a few conclusions from this year's discussions. First, innovation is alive and doing well. The industry has picked up a head of steam that will within the next few years show us things we never expected. “I didn't see that coming” may well be the descriptive phrase going forward.
Additionally, there is a serious crop of new solutions to problems both old and new, and those solutions are more user friendly, better organized and better concentrated on solving the problem they claim to address than we have seen in many a day.
Finally, it is clear that the bad guys are getting more proficient at circumventing security controls. But, at the same time, there are companies getting more proficient at preventing that circumvention. Can we jump ahead of the cyber crooks in the coming year? We certainly hope so. Perhaps that sounds naïve to you as hard-boiled security professionals, but we have talked to 18 Innovators who have the drive, passion and vision to do exactly that. We guess we'll just have to see what the year brings.