Security never sleeps


Anand Prahlad, the managing director of operations of McAfee India, leads the research and development, innovation and brand-building operations in India, while parallelly maintaining his role as the vice president in the endpoint security group. In his personal capacity, he is also an angel investor and a member of the Indian Angel Network.

In this chat with The SmartCEO, Prahlad talks about the role of innovation in the security software industry, the company’s collaboration with Intel and the key growth drivers for McAfee in India.

What is the need of the hour today, in the Indian security industry?   

I believe the over-arching need of the hour today, is for organisations to be able to focus on their core businesses without having to stay up all night, worrying about security for their data or networks.  In the Indian security industry in particular, there are two clear areas where there will be an increased focus; mobile and cloud security.

Innovation can be nurtured using initiatives and programs, but the most effective way is to simply hire the smartest people you can find and get out of the way

Mobile malware is on the rise and while that is an obvious area of interest from a security standpoint, there is also the question of how organisations effectively integrate mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, into their work environments.  The situation is made especially complex with employees choosing to bring in their personal devices (Bring Your Own Device – BYOD) to work. The task of effectively managing security on these devices while still allowing employees the unfettered use of these devices outside the workplace is a challenge that will engage most security administrators.

Cloud computing will be another focus area as public cloud adoption gathers steam and organisations get ready to deploy more of their workload on the cloud.  The challenge will be in ensuring a level of trust and security for these workloads, which will at least equate to what security administrators would expect in their on-premise deployments.

How different is the industry in India vis-a-vis in developed nations? What are the key growth drivers and critical success factors for McAfee in India? 

As a market, the buying triggers and criteria in India can be different.  The Indian market has a huge component of small and medium businesses (SMB) that are price conscious buyers and look for ease of use.  McAfee has placed a huge emphasis on this market worldwide and we have products in the pipeline specifically targeted for this sector and drivers like mobile and cloud will feed its growth.  Being able to provide effective, easy to use solutions at the right price points will be critical for McAfee’s success in the Indian market.

What is the role of innovation at McAfee? 

Innovation is our lifeblood.  By the very nature of our business, we have to stay ahead of malware authors and the only way to do that is to hire the most innovative engineers and provide them an ecosystem in which they can do what they do best.  For us to be successful, innovation needs to be in our DNA. Innovation can be nurtured using initiatives and programs, but the most effective way is to simply hire the smartest people you can find and get out of the way.

What limitations does the company face, while developing security software? 

Like any large company with a lot of product lines and a big installed base to protect, we sometimes feel that we could move faster, but overall, I feel McAfee does a tremendous job of hiring great talent and giving them an environment in which they can thrive and flourish.  McAfee’s India Center (MIC) is the largest research and development center for McAfee worldwide and we do several things in MIC to sustain the innovative culture. Some of them include special incentives for smart engineers who stay on a technical career path and competitions that test our engineers’ innovative abilities to get their creative juices flowing.

McAfee became a wholly owned subsidiary of Intel in February 2011. How has it impacted the company’s India operations? 

McAfee is counted under Intel’s software and services group, but has, for the most part, operated quite autonomously since the acquisition.  We have continued to maintain separate office spaces in all our geographies and in almost all aspects of day-to-day operations we operate as a separate company governed by our co-presidents.   McAfee has even acquired companies since becoming an Intel subsidiary.  Intel and McAfee have both, however, collaborated at a technical level on several projects where both companies felt we could offer better solutions to customers together.   The Indian operations of Intel and McAfee also operate separately although there is a good degree of engagement and collaboration in technical areas of mutual interest.

Where do you see the security industry five years from now?

Mobile and cloud will shift the focus away from protecting and securing devices to protecting and securing data.   Increased willingness on the part of organisations to use the cloud will demand easy to use cloud-based security management solutions.  Also, what will become important will be the ability to assess and attest to security on cloud infrastructure before customer payloads get put on them.

What is your leadership style? Any key learnings that helped you scale up in your career? 

There are a number of leadership tenets I hold dear and follow on a daily basis, but overall, I’d probably describe myself as someone who leads by example, from the front.   I also don’t believe that you can manage things you don’t understand, so I try to get in and understand details because that helps me make better decisions and be a better leader.   I’ve led large research and development teams for the last 15 years and in the process, I’ve learnt that tenacity, risk-taking, delegation, anticipation and decisiveness are all important qualities that have made me successful.  But I think the most important thing above all this is to have a core set of personal and professional values that you hold sacred and live by. When these values are strong and they resonate with your employees, they see you standing by these values consistently and you’ll earn their undying loyalty.

Tell us more about your role as an angel investor. 

Being a part of a startup, during my tenure at CommVault, a data and information management company, helped me understand what it takes for a small company to grow and see success.  I am eager to share my experiences to help make small companies successful and angel investing gives me an opportunity to do so.  I am particularly passionate about companies that are either solving a problem for India or companies that are building products that can make a real difference globally.  There are so many start-ups just in Bengaluru with such interesting ideas that, I am confident, not before long, we’ll have several large product companies based out of India.

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