Cyber Security for Remote Work with Masergy’s Chris MacFarland

Today’s guest on Good Morning Work From Home is Chris MacFarland, Chairman and CEO, of Masergy. Chris joins us to discuss how innovation is the cornerstone to leveraging technology and why issues like enhanced cyber security for remote work continue to be top priorities.

You recently returned to Masergy in the position of CEO back in May. You’d previously been with the company for a long time, but now that you’re back in the CEO position, what’s your vision for Masergy over the next six or twelve months? 

I’ve been with the company 13 out of the 20 years they’ve been around. In fact, we’re just a few weeks from celebrating our actual 20th anniversary, so I’m pretty excited about that prospect as this company has been a big chunk of my life’s work. When I returned to the CEO chair we looked at our past challenges and considered what we thought things would look like three, five and ten years out. What is the real opportunity as enterprises and medium sized businesses to continue to evolve their communication stack and their information technology?  How can they become and remain competitive in whatever market that they compete in?

What we saw at the board level was the fact that we’re in a unique period of time and I can draw those parallels a few different ways. When I thought about the IT framework about 30 years ago, we saw private networking evolve to using the MPLS based VPNs. They really reopened up the ability to start centralizing an application. For an enterprise, it was like, okay, now I have a different methodology for how I make my information technology, servers and storage and data centers be more specific. Almost 30 years later, everything is really different.

We’re seeing the fact that most companies have pivoted. I think you will continue to see that companies start using service components for a lot of different software that they don’t have to write. They can literally subscribe to it monthly or annually over a multiyear contract. When you think about the rest of infrastructure, the applications, and where the data flows are, where it stays has changed dramatically. This drainage of the cloud is accelerating the network side of the equation, which is something that we really focused on — how do we participate in a meaningful way so that enterprises don’t view the network as a bottleneck? When you have so many different flows of the internet being more utilized as their primary activity path, I think it’s exciting.

When I think about it, what’s really widely known today is SD-WAN, and how it’s shifting more to what we call the secure access service edge with SASE. We’re at a unique point in time over the next decade where enterprises can now have the agility with our communications infrastructure that will allow them to not have these significant roadblocks keeping them from able to execute whatever project they want to.

And usually, unless you’re passionate about something, it’s better to let somebody who’s either passionate or an expert go do those things for you.

We’ve seen this change from technology just being a support role to now the CIO, who sits and engages, not only with the CEO, but also with the board on a fairly regular basis. With information technology we’ve seen software begin to eat the world across all industries.

All industries are absolutely being disrupted so people are constantly having to reinvent themselves and figure out ways to be more competitive. And being able to have your software, your front office, your back office, your supply chain vendors, and everything else be really agile is so incredibly important. If you think about the pandemic that we’re facing in 2020, now you have this environment where we all have a knowledge worker world. Maybe 90% of the workforce for some period of time was either working from home or just couldn’t work. I think the good news is that we’ve shown that, especially for most businesses, they were able to transition to a mostly (if not completely) working-from-home environment. At Masergy we shifted really fast to that because we just felt that safety and health come first.

I think there’s a way for us to allow enterprises to utilize technology where there’s this unique moment in time, and where there’s the ability to save them real money versus the technology that they’ve had. There’s the ability to increase reliability and resilience of applications and the user experience. At the same time, you started to see us become more cyber focused over the last decade. Whereas today, for our network installations, cybersecurity is a foundational component of the technology. We feel like that’s not going to change because we can make enterprises more secure and increase their security posture in a world where you see tons of ransom attacks or intellectual property being stolen.

Innovation is moving at a pace we’ve never seen before. We see all these great things coming to Masergy for very different industries. We see the quality of life across the world, and how innovation can increase it dramatically. Technology is something where this is just an asset that allows us to continue to do things that are relevant.

I’d suspect a shift for us as a company, because we built the company kind of on the last generation of technology, which is still very relevant. And we think it’s still going to be somewhat hybrid for the next 10 years, as not every app moves into the cloud. Not every data center is going to go away. There’s always going to be some apps, given either compliance or intellectual property being heavily regulated, or oversight from the government about where those enterprises are going to move everything. We feel like we’re in a unique position because we can serve both and we can do it in a way that just makes sense to them.

What we’ve seen in the pandemic is that the user base has shifted. In the past a business could say they were able to have users in offices, and yes people did work remote and mobile all the time, but still the vast majority of their users were in offices where their security was. They were able to minimize risk more easily. That’s very different now because now people are home. You previously talked a little about the SaaS marketplace. It’d be interesting to hear a little bit like how you see that differently. I look at it like users are at home, they’re on broadband networks that are not necessarily enterprise secured. What are your thoughts around how we secure that new world? 

When you think about people like you and me working from home, even when the pandemic’s over, I don’t fundamentally believe that most knowledge workers are going to want to be in the office five days a week. We know that it’s going to continue until we’ve got a couple of years under our belt, but it feels like it’s going to a new model where people work two or three days at home and then maybe two or three days of the office every week. That means your communications environment has changed dramatically.

Before, it was easy for us to sit there and say, okay, the perimeter is kind of a branch office or a medium size, or there’s a large office of the data center, so let’s wrap the security technology around that instead. Now, what we need is to give any home user kind of the same capabilities. The biggest shift here for the enterprise is that we’re now talking about an easier way. But when you think about risk management, you’re trying to define what’s important, right? So if you’re a product leader or you’re a salesperson, or you’re a very senior executive, you need the work from home environment to be almost as robust or just as robust as around the office.

It’s a unique time for a company like Masergy to enable people with different technology. What you’re going to see from us over the next 90 days is a different set of capabilities aimed at work from home users. And then what we call work from home power users. So that you’ve got the same level of dialing technology, but also the same level of security and some of the same resiliency components. If you need to have absolute resiliency at your house, that’s not going to be the same thing that you would do in a data center. But the ability to take the technology and leverage two broadband connections or one wireless connection on top of a broadband connection gives us the chance to still give you dynamic application, routing the ability to look at it from a security standpoint and make sure if we see any threats we’re proactive with their security operation center.

The one thing I don’t know what’s gonna happen with over time is branch offices. For enterprise now, it’s like, okay, we’ve got different users, we’ve got different types of offices. So then it really gets down to this risk management profile. How much risk are companies willing to accept for you at home? If you’re willing to accept risk for when employees are in the office, how much risk are you willing to take when employees are on the road at a hotel or somewhere where they’re using wifi? I think what you’re going to see is you will probably be a couple of years ahead, but you’ll see a lot of different people think about how we change the security and network frameworks so that it’s easy.

We’re focused on how we simplify things for the enterprise because complexity is increasing on the communications over structure. Using technology like Zoom to engage with each other and to appear face-to-face virtually is a pretty fluid and easy experience. Almost anybody in the world can use it while being able to push down the security policies and giving you access to the resources that you need.

Companies like Masergy can help the enterprise understand risk management, but then more importantly, we have the analytics and the insights from technology like AI ops that we’ve brought to market. What we continue to enhance over time is the ability to just to make better decisions because of the day. It’s really about how you make better decisions so that the rest of your permission technology works in a way so that your journey to the cloud is easier. You also need it to allow you to deliver new products and services, or refine things so that you can be competitive in the market, regardless of what vertical industry that you’re in.

The other thing is I see this massive retail opportunity, and retail is more than just e-commerce or brick and mortars, right? There are hybrids and supply chain components. All of these technologies are allowing us to be more robust as a society. And that’s the reason why our enterprise users and supply chain partners, like Bridgepointe, can get out there and help us make a small dent in the universe.

What do you think makes Masergy good at security? Not from a one-product set, but as a company from a DNA perspective. What is it that makes you think you have that forethought or future-focused perspective from a security front or network front? Why is Masergy the right partner? 

It’s about the fact we’ve been evolving with intent to be a secure cloud networking platform company. The reason why we call it a secure cloud is that we wanted it to be thought of in advance — not as an afterthought. Even today in 2020, most of our competitors are either having to put some other piece of technology next to it, or go out and buy another piece of service. But for us, it was like, no, you can’t do that for the enterprise. It has to enhance their position, no matter how robust of other technologies that they’re implemented, whether it’s as a service or whether it’s technology, that’s sitting that they’ve procured, or whether it’s a box or a piece of software.

For our longer-term vision, which is to get our customers to what we define as autonomous networking, the network has to have a vision of what’s taken place from a user application standpoint — looking at where the data is and how it’s moving. It also has to have the ability to make optimizations occur and to self-heal. That’s going to take us a few years to get there, but we’re taking these incremental steps. But if you didn’t have security as part of the foundational framework, you’ll never get there. We spend a lot of time with the security teams that are enterprise customers talking about how they’ve applied certain components, how our technology integrates and whether this is as good or enhances, or how does this integrate.

We’re really, really uniquely positioned in this area because we acquired a small technology firm back in 2014, that greatly enhanced us from an algorithm standpoint. We immediately spent the next six years spending a lot of our time thinking about how do we make things much, much more secure?

At the same time, how do we automate analytics and insights? We’re the only company in the world today that can sell you an STL and service. It’s got firewall UTM like one or two of our other competitors, but then we also have network derived, SASE technology where we can give you threat management and response with real human capitalized security handles looking at it.

We can also use the analytics and give you retrospective threat intelligence. So if you have something take place, you can actually go back and replay it. And then we’ve got some other technologies coming into the market of security analytics, where we can take in all these different fees and tell you what’s actually taking place. It’s not just about networking or basic testing — it’s about offering a unified framework and fabric that gives you all the flexibility and agility that you need at a better cost, and all the dedicated bandwidth that you had before that was private, but at the same time enhances your posture no matter which way the application or user flows are going.

Before we finish up, what do you think people should know about Masergy as a company? 

For the last 19 years, we were really focused mostly on large, large enterprises, typically multinationals, and not global solutions. I think there was a view that we had a lot more technology capabilities and that our customer satisfaction has always been second to no one, and there was a little bit of a premium kind of associated with that. I think today we’re really thinking about 2020 and beyond the current solution portfolio, whether it’s SD-WAN or SASE, or UCaaS. So if you’re a medium-sized business, we probably have a solution set that fits you and we can serve you — and we can do it in a very remarkable way. We’re excited about adding new services because we think that opens up a lot of new opportunities. More importantly, it’s allowed us to serve a greater part of the universe, which we think needs our technology and services.

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