April - 2006 - issue > Cover Story
Where Innovation Matters
Pradeep Shankar
Tuesday, April 4, 2006
Symantec’s R&D center in Pune is seeing an orbital shift—from turning technical innovation to customer relevant innovation. John Thompson, Chairman & CEO of Symantec is here with a promise: Shall accelerate this momentum.

“I sleep like a baby. I really don't worry about competition,” exclaims John Thompson, Chairman & CEO of Symantec. “I worry more about our ability to execute. If my team knows to execute precisely and professionally, then competition is less of an issue.”

And Thompson’s engineers know it well. Engineers at Symantec’s Pune center take inspiration from Thompson’s sparkling words. They cannot still stop discussing the details on how their innovations mattered most to their clients. A sense of high intensity for innovation pervades through the entire group. With their big daddy in town, the intensity is all gingered up. And they can't wait to make leeway into the banquet hall where he is reinforcing spirits.

“We want to be a $10 billion company by 2010,” says Thompson looking at his entire league of smart techies. “In order to grow faster we need to tap the best talent around the world; you guys are the center piece of my quest in moving our company’s mission forward.” The good news is, Symantec expects to double its India footprint over the next couple of years.

The Pune center focuses on building solutions to help individuals and enterprises protect their information and infrastructure. With about 1700 engineers, Pune accounts for about 20 percent of Symantec's development staff worldwide. Set up by VERITAS Software in 1992, the center became part of Symantec after the merger of the two companies in July 2005.

Technical Vitality
Over the last several years, the center has developed a strong technical and development ladder. One of the challenges when you are developing products around cutting edge technologies is to maintain the technical vitality of the team. “When technical people are fragmented across different business functions it is important that there is an integrated approach in improving the technical track,” says Anil Chakravarthy, vice president, India Technical Operations.

And Symantec India has got it right. Basically, their merger with VERITAS’ strong technical team had brought the right people in and so their goals were aligned and intact. Symantec has been extra conscious about its technical track, employee growth opportunities and also its active technical vitality program. To meet this end, a CTO role was created in Pune—something unheard of among India Development centers of other multinationals.

Hot bed of Tech Innovations
Earlier this year, Symantec inventors & innovators across the world flew to Goa to attend the Annual Inventors and Innovator Awards Ceremony recognizing the innovation and technical achievements of Symantec's India R&D community. Chirag Dalal who was among the ‘Top 10 Innovators’ of this magazine [Dec 05-Jan 06 issue] raised a toast to say, “Symantec is a company populated with smart and bright techies of the country. And the company couldn’t do better without exploring our ideas or providing support in whatever ways possible.” He adds, “This motivation has helped us to move from incremental innovation towards delta of innovation.”

Symantec’s objective is to create an environment that fosters an engineer to think ahead of the market. The company constantly prods employees in churning out innovative ideas into products as quickly as possible so that customer can feel the value of their ideas! And the end result has been a slew of young minds pursuing their ideas and striving to get the best solution to Symantec’s customers.

Symantec’s entrepreneurial fever among all the employees has never waned off. Each week, groups of employees catch up at regular brainstorm-meetings to discuss on the future product road map of the company. This practice has in fact provided a platform for every employee to express his or her ideas. And Symantec has witnessed some ideas translating into new ventures within the company. One such translation is the cutting edge work the team was involved especially on UNIX platform. Pawan Goyal, Director Engineering, Symantec explains this with great excitement, “A strong burning desire coupled with ambition to do more is what makes a Symantec engineer standout in the crowd. Here there is an opportunity to stretch technically and do beyond what we think our abilities are. This further strengthens the strong culture of innovation we have that makes us proud to be a true Employer of Choice, in every sense of the phrase!”

The company recently held a competition on unstructured content management. Engineers across Symantec’s various divisions came up with ideas to handle unstructured data within an enterprise. Competitions such as these reinforce the spirit of innovation among employees.

Over the years a formal process has been set in motion, encouraging and helping engineers through the patent filing process with experienced seniors forming a part of a group that helps facilitate the process. This surge in employee participation has led to an inevitable surge in patent applications. “These kinds of mechanisms have been absolutely critical for us to improve our relative rate of innovation and extend our culture to the new set of people who have joined,” says Chakravarthy.

Many of the innovations developed from Pune have found their way into the award-winning and market-leading products that Symantec sells worldwide. [See box]. However, the excitement that you see at Pune is not just because the engineers have been given ownership of some of the product lines. It also has to do with the fact that over the years, Symantec’s Pune development center has made steady progress in moving up the value chain with its high Innovation Intensity. And of course the fact is that the excitement is spiced with their CEO Thompson visiting India to share his road map for the country.

Customer Insight
Symantec’s strong team has a reputation for anticipating an evolving marketplace and the changing needs of customers. The Pune center provides its engineers an opportunity to gain customer insight—a key driver in boosting the morale of the developers. A special group comprising of members from both sales and engineering team focuses on commercializing the products or solutions that originated in the Pune Center. The group selects products from the pipeline and helps in making the transition from prototype to trial and getting reference customers. “We have seeded the group with people who had prior business facing experience,” says Chakravarthy.

Developers, on rotation, spend approximately six months with this group. This has been extremely useful for the center to move from a component responsibility model to building emerging products. This helps developers change their thinking about wanting to know more through customer interactions.

Symantec’s success in many ways is attributable to its unique hiring process during the early days. It focused only on engineers passing out from premier colleges, and gave them enough incubation time to play with technology. This helped Symantec in building a pipeline of innovators over a period of time. Goyal emphasizes, “If we had not focused on the right initial core it would have taken lot of time to get to this level of innovation.”

Thompson too identifies the strength of his India team as world class. He said, “I am sure if we unleash your creativity then the product features, functions and capabilities you will develop will fast surpass what we have. I am also convinced that this creativity will not only confirm our leadership position in the industry but also will pick up the pace and extend our lead our competitors in the market place.”

The hall where Thompson is giving his speech recognizing the India center’s achievements reverberates with excitement. But Thompson is not done yet. He is promising to accelerate support to the entire team here and keep the growth wheel rotating at a great pace. And his last line sums it up “This is my first time here. But I am sure it won’t be the last!” he says.
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