Role Model

He quit his cor­po­rate ca­reer to start Se­cure Net­work So­lu­tions. NK Me­hta, CEO of the pure-play se­cu­rity com­pany, walks us through his re­mark­able jour­ney


The se­cu­rity specialist

He quit his cor­po­rate ca­reer to start Se­cure Net­work So­lu­tions. NK Me­hta, CEO of the pure-play se­cu­rity com­pany, walks us through his re­mark­able jour­ney

Hav­ing been in­volved with net­work se­cu­rity at the Tata Group and Gulf In­ter­na­tional Bank for 12 years, the en­gi­neer­ing grad­u­ate from BIT, Dhan­bad, who upped his scholas­tic quo­tient with an MBA from XLRI, Jamshedpur, was al­ways con­cerned about the gaps in se­cu­rity.

“We were ser­viced by tier-1 part­ners who pushed prod­ucts to solve a prob­lem in­stead of tak­ing a holis­tic ap­proach to se­cure net­works,” re­calls Me­hta.

See­ing im­mense op­por­tu­ni­ties in se­cu­rity ser­vices, Me­hta jumped the fence and moved to Chen­nai in 2000 where he started Se­cure Net­work So­lu­tions (SNS). “Al­though we ini­tially did not get sup­port from banks and dis­trib­u­tors, we in­vested in cer­ti­fi­ca­tions and ob­tained the CCSA and CCSE cer­ti­fi­ca­tions from Check Point.”

At a time when part­ner-to-part­ner col­lab­o­ra­tion was a dream, SNS re­ceived its first-ever branch net­work se­cu­rity project from Maruti Udyog for ` 4 lakh in 2000. “An un­cle who worked with PC So­lu­tions sub-let the project to us,” Me­hta ad­mits.

SNS de­ployed sim­i­lar so­lu­tions for TGIB Bank, a gar­ment re­tailer and a small fash­ion house for ` 6 lakh. “We re­al­ized early on that the deal value of pure-play se­cu­rity projects would be small. But we con­tin­ued to in­vest in in­fra­struc­ture and set up a CoE at our Chen­nai of­fice.”

Early days

Me­hta de­vel­oped a frame­work for a SWOT (strengths, weak­nesses, op­por­tu­ni­ties and threats) anal­y­sis of the cus­tomer’s net­work se­cu­rity, threat pat­terns and new se­cu­rity trends.

In ad­di­tion, SNS trained its re­sources in Cisco, Ju­niper, Web­sense, WatchGuard and Citrix se­cu­rity. It also ob­tained the ISO27000, and the CEH cer­ti­fi­ca­tion for eth­i­cal hack­ing.

“We re­al­ized early on that the deal value of pure-play se­cu­rity projects would be small. But we con­tin­ued to in­vest in cer­ti­fi­ca­tion and set up a CoE”

“The cer­ti­fi­ca­tions gave us in­depth vis­i­bil­ity into things such as VPNs; band­width man­age­ment; con­tent fil­ter­ing; in­tru­sion preven­tion and de­tec­tion sys­tems; patch man­age­ment; router, switch and wire­less LAN man­age­ment; and Linux-based Web, mail and proxy servers,” Me­hta ex­plains.

Armed with the frame­work, cer­ti­fi­ca­tions and skillsets, he met the CIOs of SMB or­ga­ni­za­tions. “Since we were start­ing out, we of­fered net­work au­dit as a part of our con­sul­tancy for free. From 2001-2003 we signed on 250 SMB cus­tomers in­clud­ing Celebrity Fash­ions, Linea Fash­ions and Food World for deals of ` 2 lakh to ` 4 lakh. The SMB seg­ment con­trib­uted 90 per­cent of our rev­enue, and the mid­mar­ket 10 per­cent.”

The take-off

The year 2004 was when SNS re­ally took off. “We signed on Hex­aware, which re­mains one of our largest cus­tomers till date. The en­gage­ment has grown over the years, and to­day we are man­ag­ing 5,500 end­points across five lo­ca­tions,” says a proud Me­hta.

The same year SNS bagged projects from large govern­ment or­ga­ni­za­tions such as RCI Re­finer­ies, Chen­nai Petroleum, Cen­tral Leather In­sti­tute, and Vikram Sarab­hai Space Cen­tre for fire­wall pro­tec­tion, anti-virus, VPN, and web and In­ter­net se­cu­rity, for deals av­er­ag­ing ` 50 lakh. SNS was also able to pen­e­trate the BFSI, man­u­fac­tur­ing and health­care ver­ti­cals.

The com­pany lever­aged its cer­ti­fi­ca­tions for cor­po­rate train­ing, and has trained more than 250 en­gi­neers in trou­ble-shoot­ing so far.

The tran­si­tion

Be­tween 2005 and 2010, SNS made head­way in the large en­ter­prise space as it started re­ceiv­ing calls from cor­po­rates whose em­ploy­ees had un­der­gone train­ing at SNS.

“But the ic­ing on the cake was the large cus­tomers un­happy with the lack of sup­port from tier-1 part­ner— and who were re­ferred to us by the ven­dors them­selves. While we did not charge them for a net­work au­dit, the re­newal rate was great at 97 per­cent,” Me­hta says.

Op­por­tu­ni­ties for SNS also sprung from the global ex­pan­sion in 2005. It con­ducted se­cu­rity au­dits and

pro­vided so­lu­tions for more than 500 In­dian com­pa­nies op­er­at­ing in the man­u­fac­tur­ing, BFSI, con­struc­tion, ed­u­ca­tion and HR ar­eas. Some of these cus­tomers in­cluded Ori­en­tal So­lu­tions, Scope In­ter­na­tional, Madras School of Eco­nom­ics, MaFoi, He­witt As­so­ciates, Marg Con­struc­tion, Lanco In­frat­ech and Take So­lu­tions.

In 2012, SNS de­ployed two projects for very large cus­tomers in the BFSI and ITeS seg­ments who were in­fested with huge se­cu­rity gaps. “For ` 2 crore we of­fered our net­work au­dit frame­work, iden­ti­fied pain points, and de­ployed UTM so­lu­tions con­nect­ing 2,000 users across mul­ti­ple lo­ca­tions to a cen­tral lo­ca­tion,” Me­hta in­forms.

Cur­rent busi­ness

SNS grew 30 per­cent and clocked rev­enue of ` 19 crore in FY2013-14, up from in FY2012-13.

Me­hta cred­its its geo-ex­pan­sion, tie-ups with global SIs, and the ac­qui­si­tion of large en­ter­prise cus­tomers as the main rea­sons for growth.

The com­pany has opened nine branches across the coun­try to pro­vide pan-In­dia sup­port to en­ter­prise cus­tomers. For a deal worth ` 1 crore in 2013, it de­ployed and is main­tain­ing For­tinet fire­walls across 300 lo­ca­tions of the Shri­ram Group.

“We bagged sim­i­lar or­ders from 40-50 large cus­tomers in­clud­ing Ac­cen­ture, He­witt, Mindtree, In­te­gral Coach Fac­tory, Sun­daram In­fotech, TVS Del­phi and Na­tional In­sti­tute for Ocean Tech­nol­ogy for deal sizes rang­ing from ` 50 lakh to ` 1 crore,” Me­hta re­veals. “En­ter­prise cus­tomers con­trib­uted 40-50 per­cent of our rev­enue, and the deal size also rose by 40-50 per­cent over the last few years.”

The com­pany has opened a new of­fice in Chen­nai, and has hired a na­tional sales head who has worked in se­nior po­si­tions at IBM and Son­icWall. An­other se­nior ex­ec­u­tive from In­gram Mi­cro has also joined SNS in Hy­der­abad.

In a bid to im­prove its ser­vice sup­port and man­age the ex­pand­ing cus­tomer base—now more than 1,500 cus­tomers, more than 80 per­cent of whom have been with SNS for the last 14 years—SNS has ex­panded the CoE in Chen­nai and has a ded­i­cated 13-en­gi­neer team to man it.

` 14.6 crore

“We con­tinue to be ven­dor ag­nos­tic. This gives cus­tomers the con­fi­dence that we are a part of their team, and not out to sell a par­tic­u­lar ven­dor’s prod­ucts and so­lu­tions”

An­other source of growth was the large se­cu­rity projects sub-let to SNS by tier-1 SIs such as TCS and IBM. In­forms Me­hta, “We bagged In­dian cus­tomers like ILFS, HDFC, Axis and Ashok Ley­land, and some in­ter­na­tional clients like the Lon­don School of Com­merce and BatelCo through tier-1 part­ners who bagged the in­fra­struc­ture project and sub-let the se­cu­rity to us. The deal size of these projects was ` 50 lakh to ` 1 crore.”

Me­hta continues, “In the do­mes­tic mar­ket, the list of our en­ter­prise cus­tomers grew as we signed on 20 new en­ter­prise cus­tomers last year. We were pit­ted against tier-1 part­ners, but we were cho­sen be­cause of our frame­work and sup­port ca­pa­bil­i­ties. Tier-1 part­ners and ven­dors talk of nextbusi­ness-day (NBD) ship­ments for fire­wall re­place­ments, but we can of­fer same-work­ing-day (SWD) ser­vices. We have re­tained cus­tomers who con­trib­ute around 70 per­cent of our busi­ness.”

Best prac­tices

Me­hta has re­tained his ven­dor-ag­nos­tic ap­proach while ar­chi­tect­ing and de­ploy­ing so­lu­tions for SNS cus­tomers. “This gives cus­tomers the con­fi­dence that we are a part of their team and not some­body who is out to sell a par­tic­u­lar ven­dor’s prod­ucts and so­lu­tions.”

The fact that SNS re­fused to tie it­self to rev­enue com­mit­ments helped the com­pany in its en­deavor to re­main ven­dor-ag­nos­tic. “We have earned cus­tomer and ven­dor re­spect be­cause of our neu­tral ap­proach. We also have a unique ser­vices frame­work which is our USP, and we want to fo­cus on that,” Me­hta says.

Lit­tle won­der then that SNS won the Best WatchGuard Part­ner Award for the tenth year in a row. In 2013, it also won the Check Point Award for Best En­ter­prise Fire­wall Part­ner for the South; it was the only tier-2 part­ner to achieve this feat—the awards in the other three re­gions went to Wipro, HCL and TCS.

Other feath­ers in its cap were the For­tinet Award for Cus­tomer Re­ten­tion & Re­newals, the Sophos Ris­ing Star Award and the Web­sense Award for New Busi­ness.

Fu­ture plans

“We want to be known as the best se­cu­rity part­ner in In­dia, and are tar­get­ing 30 per­cent growth next year as well,” says Me­hta. “For that we have the strate­gies and in­vest­ments in place, and will now hire more people.”

On a per­sonal note

Me­hta loves home-cooked food, and re­cently turned ve­gan as a mea­sure to con­trol his su­gar and BP. He loves to read in­spi­ra­tional books, and is fond of hilly ar­eas.

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