Tag Archives: team

Team collaboration secondary in Workplace by Facebook app

Facebook pitches Workplace as a team collaboration app, but businesses have found the product more useful as an intranet that helps build community across large workforces with many remote and part-time employees.

In recent months, Facebook has stepped up efforts to position its business platform as a competitor to cloud-based collaboration apps like Slack and Microsoft Teams. Recently, for example, the social media company added to Workplace by Facebook third-party business software and made it easier to deploy instant messaging.

But the Workplace users interviewed for this story do not have the platform integrated with many business apps and have not seen widespread adoption of Workplace Chat, the messaging tool.

Instead, most of those Workplace users continue to rely on platforms like Microsoft Skype for Business for unified communications (UC), while using Workplace primarily for companywide announcements and for promoting collaboration across departments.

Facebook arranged interviews with Weight Watchers, Farmers Insurance and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) for this story. Heineken USA and Rooftop Housing Group, a 200-person nonprofit based in Evesham, England, were contacted independently. More than 30,000 organizations use the Workplace by Facebook app.

Workplace by Facebook app a better intranet

Only 10% of Weight Watchers employees work at a desk in an office. The World Wildlife Fund has 80 offices around the world. Two-thirds of Heineken workers in the United States are based out of regional offices, which they visit once or twice a week.

These organizations turned to the Workplace by Facebook app because it was a mobile-centric platform that most employees would intuitively know how to use based on the popularity of consumer Facebook.

“For someone who only works two hours a week for the company, we wanted them to be able to intuitively get what the platform was, understand how to use it and take to engage in it,” said Stacie Sherer, senior vice president of corporate communications at Weight Watchers.

Similar to consumer Facebook, Workplace lets users like, comment and share posts. Since deploying Workplace, employees engage with company news more frequently and are more likely to post updates about their own team’s work, the users said.

“Whether you’re in the field, or whether you’re working in finance, or whether you’re working in an administrative role, it has allowed [staff] to feel more part of WWF and our work,” said Kate Cooke, head of network communications at the World Wildlife Fund. (The platform is free for nonprofits.)

The tool has increased collaboration among teams and departments that would have otherwise never interacted. Weight Watchers employees based in different parts of the country have discussed best practices for helping clients. Recently, the Armenian branch of WWF posted about a communications campaign that other offices ended up copying.

Business integrations aren’t central to how companies use Workplace

In May, Facebook unveiled roughly 50 integrations with SaaS apps such as Jira, HubSpot and SurveyMonkey, following the lead of platforms like Slack, Microsoft Teams and Cisco Webex Teams. But for the most part, the organizations interviewed for this story haven’t begun taking advantage of those integrations.

The users, however, do have Workplace integrated with cloud storage apps, such as Box and Google Drive, and web conferencing platforms, such as Zoom, which can be used to live stream meetings and events to Workplace. Those integrations had been available before the May announcement.

Microsoft, Cisco and Slack have marketed their team collaboration apps as hubs for getting work done. Those apps let users, for example, approve expense reports and message with colleagues from the same interface.

The Workplace by Facebook app offers similar functionality, but users are not adopting the app primarily for that reason.

“We really focused it on that engagement perspective to start and really using it as a communication channel,” said Jacqueline Leahy, director of internal corporate communications at Heineken USA. “We have not started to really use it in terms of managing projects.”

Workplace Chat adoption lags

None of the Workplace users rely on the app as their primary instant messaging platform. Most have other UC clients deployed, such as Microsoft Skype for Business, and don’t view Workplace as a replacement for those tools.

At Weight Watchers, for example, the technology and product teams use Slack, integrated with Confluence and Jira, while others in the organization communicate through WhatsApp or text messaging. Sherer said the company was looking into boosting adoption of Workplace Chat.

In fact, Workplace may be inadvertently contributing to a communication channel overload within some organizations. Rooftop Housing Group, for example, now has three or four different ways to instant message, including Workplace Chat, Microsoft Skype for Business and a Mitel softphone client.

“We now need to find organizational defaults,” said John Rockley, the nonprofit’s head of communications and marketing. “Otherwise, we’ve got too many separate channels.”

Digital transformation process: Align business and IT, shake legacy

At the Strongbow Consulting Group, founder and managing partner Cathy Horst Forsyth and her team help large enterprises digitally transform — specifically around network and infrastructure. From her experience with Fortune 500 companies, legacy applications and systems and misalignment of technology and business strategies can cause significant setbacks in the digital transformation process.

In this SearchCIO interview from the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium, Horst Forsyth details the trends and challenges that she’s seeing in enterprises that are going through the digital transformation process and what’s needed to be successful.

Editor’s note: This transcript has been edited for clarity and length.

What parts of the enterprise are leading the charge in the digital transformation process?

Cathy Horst Forsyth: You see it all on the edges of the business where we have lines of business working directly with their customers, with their individual goals. I think where we see digital transformation being most progressive and most successful is when those lines of business — at the front end of the business — are working closely with their technology partners. What doesn’t seem to work well, or at least what can fall back and have negative consequences is when the lines of business are transforming and driving digital transformation that does not align with a corporate strategy and isn’t compliant with [an organization’s] technology strategy. So, where we see the most success, whether it’s marketing, sales or any particular functional area within the firm, is really that alignment with the business executive and the technology team to make sure the execution is both successful and compliant with the overall goals of the organization.

What parts of the enterprise are less far along in the digital transformation process?

You really can’t underestimate the [extent to which] legacy infrastructure systems and applications tether large companies down.
Cathy Horst Forsythfounder and managing partner, Strongbow Consulting Group

Horst Forsyth: Again, it’s kind of hard to generalize from my perspective. I can’t say one department or function is necessarily behind. But I would say that with organizations that are tethered to legacy applications, legacy infrastructure or legacy systems, it’s very difficult to dig themselves out of that. It’s probably not for lack of wanting to transform digitally, but you really can’t underestimate the [extent to which] legacy infrastructure systems and applications tether large companies down. Again, that’s one of the reasons [Strongbow] focuses specifically on the largest of enterprises. It is a lot easier to start ‘greenfield’ and to drive innovation when you haven’t been a classic Fortune 500 company for the past 50 or 100 years. Even though it’s about culture, leadership and many other things, the legacy infrastructure really can be an impediment. Where there are sunk costs or where it’s difficult to even understand where that infrastructure resides — which is an issue at times — we really see those organizations being hindered.

What kinds of strategies are effective in getting the entire enterprise to the same level of digital prowess?

Horst Forsyth: Once again, I go back to the top executives and the executive committee and [having the ability to] really understand and articulate business strategies. So, what are we trying to accomplish? Why are we trying to accomplish it? Anything can be framed in terms of opportunity or threat. Having everyone understand that simplistic business strategy is definitely a forerunner to then understanding how to leverage technology and achieving [digital transformation]. I think that, to some extent, technology strategy should be driven across the business — including on the front lines — but it needs to be monitored so that it’s consistent and compliant with corporate standards. And I think that the executives need to monitor and keep track of what’s going on, but allow it to go on and grow in a flexible fashion.

Announcing new lesson plans and Minecraft: Education Edition update to spark interest in STEM |

This week, the Microsoft Education team is in the Windy City showing off some exciting new technology and curricula to support STEM learning at the annual ISTE conference.

In today’s job market, 50 percent of jobs require technology skills, and in the next 10 years, these types of jobs will outpace non-technology jobs by nearly two to one. It’s more important than ever to help students understand and appreciate STEM fields, to prepare them for the future workplace and to be digital citizens in a rapidly changing world.

Technology can empower educators to deliver inspiring lessons, personalize instruction and build creativity and critical thinking skills, which is why we’re so excited to bring STEM to life with these new tools and programs!

1. Bring the mystery of the oceans to your classroom with new STEM lesson plans

In partnership with BBC Learning, we’re thrilled to announce a new collection of teacher-written, inquiry-based lesson plans to compliment the BBC Earth and OCEANX film, Oceans: Our Blue Planet.

These interdisciplinary experiences engage students in answering four big questions: how ocean currents form, how sharks swim, how deep the ocean is, and how to craft coral reefs.

How do sharks swim?

Learn about the 3D coordinate system by working with physical and digital shark models to   understand yaw, pitch, and roll in order to survey a marine environment.

How deep is the ocean?

Students explore remote terrains by modeling and graphing the ocean floors with an ultrasonic sensor to visualize organisms that live in different ocean layers.

How are ocean currents formed?

Students discover how salinity and temperature impact ocean currents by conducting experiments, building electrical conductivity sensors, and analyzing global data.

How to craft coral reefs

Through the power of Minecraft: Education Edition, take your classroom underwater to discover the different types of reefs and what can be done to save them.

Students start by taking on the roles of biological oceanographers and marine geologists, biologists, and physicists. Then, working through the content, they are challenged to write code, build sensors, analyze data, and create in 3D and mixed reality. These hands-on explorations are ISTE and NGSS standards aligned and include reflection, documentation, and assessment activities that are supported by a rich archive of stills and clips made possible by BBC Learning from BBC Studios. What’s more, they can all be done for less than a few dollars with everyday objects.

Check out these great new STEM lesson plans to build future ready skills in your classroom today and show students how to:

Write code

  • Craft coral reefs and explore shipwrecks in Minecraft: Education Edition using MakeCode scripting
  • Write sensor programs with Data Streamer Connect
  • Flash code for both Arduino and Micro:bit microcontrollers

Build sensors

  • Construct an electroconductivity sensor to measure conductivity of ocean water
  • Assemble an ultrasonic sensor to map the ocean floor
  • Engineer a joystick to navigate a robotic shark through a virtual marine environment

Analyze data

  • Stream real-time data from your sensors into Excel with Data Streamer
  • Work with global oceanic climate, temperature and salinity big data sets
  • Compare the world’s mountain heights to the depths of the ocean floor trenches

Work in 3D

  • Model the five ocean zones in Paint 3D and populate them with marine organisms
  • Animate a shark model in PowerPoint to understand yaw, pitch and roll
  • Use a 3D model of the world to understand how ocean currents circulate around the globe

Review and reflect:

  • Check understanding of mathematical and scientific concepts with interactive visualizations in Excel
  • Use photo and videos to create lab notebooks, student journals, and presentations

Teachers can also take their students on an underwater global odyssey in Oceans: Our Blue Planet, a BBC Earth and OCEANX film that reveals extraordinary discoveries and untold stories of the oceans’ most astonishing creatures. ISTE attendees can join us next week for a free viewing of the BBC Earth and OCEANX film, Oceans: Our Blue Planet, and see how it brings this STEM experience to life.

2. Minecraft: Education Edition adds Update Aquatic

  

Minecraft: Education Edition continues to grow with 35 million K-12 teachers and students in 115 countries around the world now licensed to use the game to transform the way they teach and learn. Teachers are using Minecraft to teach every subject imaginable and encouraging student collaboration, creativity and digital citizenship. This week, we’re sharing a cool glimpse of new worlds coming to Minecraft: Education Edition.

ISTE attendees this week will get to experience the Update Aquatic for Minecraft: Education Edition, a new set of game features and underwater worlds available for free to all Minecraft: Education Edition users. Students can use coding to build coral reefs, explore shipwrecks and underwater monuments, learn about sustainable fishing, and rescue dolphins. Educators are invited to use the free lessons provided with the update, which will be demoed at ISTE in the Microsoft Education booth by the Minecraft team and members of the Minecraft Global Mentor program.

Learn more about the Update Aquatic on the Minecraft Education blog.

3. Apply now for a Limitless Libraries grant to enrich the learning experience at your public or school library with mixed reality headsets

Microsoft is excited to announce Limitless Libraries, a new Mixed Reality grant program designed to help foster Mixed Reality adoption in education. The fund is open for applications starting today with the first recipients selected at the end of the summer. Sign up today!

Libraries – both in schools and in the community – have long been a place where students immerse themselves in the learning experience and ignite their creativity, envisioning their favorite stories come to life. With the expansion of digital technology like mixed reality headsets, we see a new world of possibility to transform learning efficiency, retention, and student engagement​.

The grant provides libraries with all the resources for getting a Mixed Reality program up and running, including:

      • Two Windows Mixed Reality headsets and two computers to operate them
      • Technical training of staff and administration
      • Assistance with marketing resources and program scheduling
      • Email support to answer any questions going forward
      • Access to other grantees
      • Updates about new content rollouts

Middle schools and High schools (grades 6-12) can apply, as can public libraries. Grant applicants whose programs provide exposure and increased knowledge in STEM, and where a high percentage of participating youth are considered underserved as defined in the local context, will be given priority.

Apply now and contact [email protected] with any questions.

If you’re headed to ISTE, please stop by to say hello and learn more about these new tools and lesson plans and the rest of our exciting ISTE demos, which you can read more about here.

*Open only to libraries in grades 6-12 in the US, and public libraries in the US. Applications close Monday, July 9, 2018. For details, see the official rules.

Microsoft to acquire Bonsai in move to build ‘brains’ for autonomous systems – The Official Microsoft Blog

Group shot of Bonsai's team members
Bonsai’s team members. Photo courtesy of Bonsai.

With AI’s meteoric rise, autonomous systems have been projected to grow to more than 800 million in operation by 2025. However, while envisioned in science fiction for a long time, truly intelligent autonomous systems are still elusive and remain a holy grail. The reality today is that training autonomous systems that function amidst the many unforeseen situations in the real world is very hard and requires deep expertise in AI — essentially making it unscalable.

To achieve this inflection point in AI’s growth, traditional machine learning methodologies aren’t enough. Bringing intelligence to autonomous systems at scale will require a unique combination of the new practice of machine teaching, advances in deep reinforcement learning and leveraging simulation for training. Microsoft has been on a path to make this a reality through continued AI research breakthroughs; the development of the powerful Azure AI platform of tools, services and infrastructure; advances in deep learning including our acquisition of Maluuba, and the impressive efficiencies we’ve achieved in simulation-based training with Microsoft Research’s AirSim tool. With software developers at the center of digital transformation, our pending acquisition of GitHub further underscores just how imperative it is that we empower developers to break  through and lead this next wave of innovation.

Today we are excited to take another major step forward in our vision to make it easier for developers and subject matter experts to build the “brains”— machine learning modelfor autonomous systems of all kinds with the signing of an agreement to acquire Bonsai. Based in Berkeley, California, and an M12 portfolio company, Bonsai has developed a novel approach using machine teaching that abstracts the low-level mechanics of machine learning, so that subject matter experts, regardless of AI aptitude, can specify and train autonomous systems to accomplish tasks. The actual training takes place inside a simulated environment.

The company is building a general-purpose, deep reinforcement learning platform especially suited for enterprises leveraging industrial control systems such as robotics, energy, HVAC, manufacturing and autonomous systems in general. This includes unique machine-teaching innovations, automated model generation and management, a host of APIs and SDKs for simulator integration, as well as pre-built support for leading simulations all packaged in one end-to-end platform.

Bonsai’s platform combined with rich simulation tools and reinforcement learning work in Microsoft Research becomes the simplest and richest AI toolchain for building any kind of autonomous system for control and calibration tasks. This toolchain will compose with Azure Machine Learning running on the Azure Cloud with GPUs and Brainwave, and models built with it will be deployed and managed in Azure IoT, giving Microsoft an end-to-end solution for building, operating and enhancing “brains” for autonomous systems.

What I find exciting is that Bonsai has achieved some remarkable breakthroughs with their approach that will have a profound impact on AI development. Last fall, they established a new reinforcement learning benchmark for programming industrial control systems. Using a robotics task to demonstrate the achievement, the platform successfully trained a simulated robotic arm to grasp and stack blocks on top of one another by breaking down the task into simpler sub-concepts. Their novel technique performed 45 times faster than a comparable approach from Google’s DeepMind. Then, earlier this year, they extended deep reinforcement learning’s capabilities beyond traditional game play, where it’s often demonstrated, to real-world applications. Using Bonsai’s AI Platform and machine teaching, subject matter experts from Siemens, with no AI expertise, trained an AI model to autocalibrate a Computer Numerical Control machine 30 times faster than the traditional approach. This represented a huge milestone in industrial AI, and the implications when considered across the broader sector are just staggering.

To realize this vision of making AI more accessible and valuable for all, we have to remove the barriers to development, empowering every developer, regardless of machine learning expertise, to be an AI developer. Bonsai has made tremendous progress here and Microsoft remains committed to furthering this work. We already deliver the most comprehensive collection of AI tools and services that make it easier for any developer to code and integrate pre-built and custom AI capabilities into applications and extend to any scenario. There are over a million developers using our pre-built Microsoft Cognitive Services, a collection of intelligent APIs that enable developers to easily leverage high-quality vision, speech, language, search and knowledge technologies in their apps with a few lines of code. And last fall, we led a combined industry push to foster a more open AI ecosystem, bringing AI advances to all developers, on any platform, using any language through the introduction of the Open Neural Network Exchange (ONNX) format and Gluon open source interface for deep learning.

We’re really confident this unique marriage of research, novel approach and technology will have a tremendous effect toward removing barriers and accelerating the current state of AI development. We look forward to having Bonsai and their team join us to help realize this collective vision.

Tags: , ,

Microsoft to acquire Bonsai in move to build ‘brains’ for autonomous systems – The Official Microsoft Blog

Group shot of Bonsai's team members
Bonsai’s team members. Photo courtesy of Bonsai.

With AI’s meteoric rise, autonomous systems have been projected to grow to more than 800 million in operation by 2025. However, while envisioned in science fiction for a long time, truly intelligent autonomous systems are still elusive and remain a holy grail. The reality today is that training autonomous systems that function amidst the many unforeseen situations in the real world is very hard and requires deep expertise in AI — essentially making it unscalable.

To achieve this inflection point in AI’s growth, traditional machine learning methodologies aren’t enough. Bringing intelligence to autonomous systems at scale will require a unique combination of the new practice of machine teaching, advances in deep reinforcement learning and leveraging simulation for training. Microsoft has been on a path to make this a reality through continued AI research breakthroughs; the development of the powerful Azure AI platform of tools, services and infrastructure; advances in deep learning including our acquisition of Maluuba, and the impressive efficiencies we’ve achieved in simulation-based training with Microsoft Research’s AirSim tool. With software developers at the center of digital transformation, our pending acquisition of GitHub further underscores just how imperative it is that we empower developers to break  through and lead this next wave of innovation.

Today we are excited to take another major step forward in our vision to make it easier for developers and subject matter experts to build the “brains”— machine learning modelfor autonomous systems of all kinds with the signing of an agreement to acquire Bonsai. Based in Berkeley, California, and an M12 portfolio company, Bonsai has developed a novel approach using machine teaching that abstracts the low-level mechanics of machine learning, so that subject matter experts, regardless of AI aptitude, can specify and train autonomous systems to accomplish tasks. The actual training takes place inside a simulated environment.

The company is building a general-purpose, deep reinforcement learning platform especially suited for enterprises leveraging industrial control systems such as robotics, energy, HVAC, manufacturing and autonomous systems in general. This includes unique machine-teaching innovations, automated model generation and management, a host of APIs and SDKs for simulator integration, as well as pre-built support for leading simulations all packaged in one end-to-end platform.

Bonsai’s platform combined with rich simulation tools and reinforcement learning work in Microsoft Research becomes the simplest and richest AI toolchain for building any kind of autonomous system for control and calibration tasks. This toolchain will compose with Azure Machine Learning running on the Azure Cloud with GPUs and Brainwave, and models built with it will be deployed and managed in Azure IoT, giving Microsoft an end-to-end solution for building, operating and enhancing “brains” for autonomous systems.

What I find exciting is that Bonsai has achieved some remarkable breakthroughs with their approach that will have a profound impact on AI development. Last fall, they established a new reinforcement learning benchmark for programming industrial control systems. Using a robotics task to demonstrate the achievement, the platform successfully trained a simulated robotic arm to grasp and stack blocks on top of one another by breaking down the task into simpler sub-concepts. Their novel technique performed 45 times faster than a comparable approach from Google’s DeepMind. Then, earlier this year, they extended deep reinforcement learning’s capabilities beyond traditional game play, where it’s often demonstrated, to real-world applications. Using Bonsai’s AI Platform and machine teaching, subject matter experts from Siemens, with no AI expertise, trained an AI model to autocalibrate a Computer Numerical Control machine 30 times faster than the traditional approach. This represented a huge milestone in industrial AI, and the implications when considered across the broader sector are just staggering.

To realize this vision of making AI more accessible and valuable for all, we have to remove the barriers to development, empowering every developer, regardless of machine learning expertise, to be an AI developer. Bonsai has made tremendous progress here and Microsoft remains committed to furthering this work. We already deliver the most comprehensive collection of AI tools and services that make it easier for any developer to code and integrate pre-built and custom AI capabilities into applications and extend to any scenario. There are over a million developers using our pre-built Microsoft Cognitive Services, a collection of intelligent APIs that enable developers to easily leverage high-quality vision, speech, language, search and knowledge technologies in their apps with a few lines of code. And last fall, we led a combined industry push to foster a more open AI ecosystem, bringing AI advances to all developers, on any platform, using any language through the introduction of the Open Neural Network Exchange (ONNX) format and Gluon open source interface for deep learning.

We’re really confident this unique marriage of research, novel approach and technology will have a tremendous effect toward removing barriers and accelerating the current state of AI development. We look forward to having Bonsai and their team join us to help realize this collective vision.

Tags: , ,

I-Squared will help ensure the US has the skilled talent it needs to grow – Microsoft on the Issues

The lifeblood of Microsoft is and will always be our employees. Our company was built by a world-class team comprised of many of the best and brightest people, including many of the best software developers from around the world. High-skilled immigration has not only been important to the success of Microsoft and other individual tech companies, but in the global leadership position of the entire American tech sector. Our collective success won’t continue unless Congress reforms the nation’s immigration system into one that protects American workers while preserving the ability of American companies to continue to recruit the world’s best high-skilled talent.

That’s why we support new legislation introduced Thursday by Sen. Orrin Hatch and Sen. Jeff Flake that takes important steps to reduce the green card backlog, strengthen U.S. worker protections, prevent H-1B program abuse and raise new STEM training funds for Americans. At a time of such great discourse in our country around immigration, we believe that S.2344, the Immigration Innovation (I-Squared) Act, strikes the right balance to keep our economy strong, attract and retain top global talent and build more opportunities for American workers. We hope the Senate’s leaders will come together to support these important reforms.

One of the most important features of I-Squared is its focus on eliminating bottlenecks in the lengthy green card process for high-skilled workers. As we’ve stated previously as we’ve endorsed and spoken out for HR 392, current per country limits on employment-based green cards are arbitrary and create uncertainty and tremendous hardship for our employees and their families as they endure decades-long backlogs. This uncertainty is also not good for American businesses that want to retain this valuable talent in the country.

I-Squared eliminates those discriminatory per country limits. It also ensures that green card numbers that have gone unused in prior years due to bureaucratic processes are not wasted, but instead applied to reduce the existing backlog. I-Squared further proposes a new conditional green card process for a more direct path to permanent residence, giving more security to both employers and employees. If Congress could move forward and diminish the many uncertainties in the green card process, we could then focus even more effort on our work creating next generation technology.

I-Squared also takes significant steps to strengthen protections for American workers and prevent abuses of the H-1B program. The bill directly prohibits use of the H-1B program to displace American workers; it prohibits certain practices that currently get in the way of ensuring that H-1Bs that have been approved are actually used; and it implements more rigorous wage requirements. At the same time, the bill builds flexibility into the program to adjust at a measured pace to the market demand for high-skilled talent.

Particularly in today’s strong economy, we need to take additional steps to prepare Americans for digital jobs by investing in our domestic STEM training programs. Through the additional fees imposed by I-Squared, close to $1 billion additional dollars could be provided each year to states to support STEM education and build the country’s talent pipeline and support training for U.S. workers to enter STEM fields, including apprenticeships. As we’ve said before, these are fees that Microsoft is more than prepared to pay.

High-skilled immigration programs are critical to meeting our country’s need for skilled talent. But it needs to complement — not compete with — investing in the American workforce. The bill introduced by Senators Hatch and Flake hits the right note and makes the system better for all of us.

Tags: Brad Smith, Immigration, legislation

Comodo calls out Symantec certificate issues, applauds Google

There’s a new leadership team helming Comodo’s certificate authority division, and it wasted little time before slamming Symantec’s certificate issues.

Comodo CA Ltd., the certificate authority arm of Comodo Group Inc., was acquired last fall by private equity firm Francisco Partners. Bill Conner, president and CEO of SonicWall, joined as chairman of Comodo CA, while Bill Holtz, former COO of certificate authority EnTrust and former CIO of Expedia, was named chief executive, replacing former CEO and founder Melih Abdulhayoglu.

Comodo CA’s new leadership sees a major opportunity in the certificate authority market after months of controversy regarding Symantec certificate issues. The antivirus vendor was hit with harsh sanctions last year by Google and Mozilla over a “series of failures” regarding misissued certificates and a lack of controls and oversight. Symantec’s troubled certificate business was later sold to fellow certificate authority DigiCert.

But the actions taken by Google and Mozilla, which included the incremental removal of trust for Symantec certificates, aren’t scaring away Comodo’s new leadership team. SearchSecurity spoke with Conner and Holtz recently about why they joined Comodo, what they think of the web browser community’s response to Symantec and how the Symantec controversy will affect the certificate market.

Here is part one of the discussion with Conner and Holtz.

How did your involvement with Comodo come together?

Bill Conner: [Abdulhayoglu] and Francisco Partners [FP] and I connected, and I brought in Bill Holtz to help with some of the due diligence. He and I looked at it together. At the end of the day, Thoma Bravo [DigiCert’s parent company] got Symantec’s certificate business, which is good for them, and FP decided to make an investment in the space with Comodo, which led us to this point.

From that standpoint, it’s a net-new security space for FP. They liked [Abdulhayoglu] and what he had built. And [Abdulhayoglu] will still be a minority owner and a board observer, and that’s very much key to the future of the company. He’s extremely well-connected with all of the pieces of this market, and he and I are both very comfortable in the certificate and PKI [public key infrastructure] business.

Bill Holtz was my COO at EnTrust. And, clearly, I’m running SonicWall, so I’m not going to run two companies, so Bill was a natural fit. He and [Abdulhayoglu] hit it off, and [Holtz] and FP hit it off. My previous working relationship with [Holtz] in this space set up a pretty nice outcome.

Why did you decide to be part of the certificate authority space again, and what kind of factor was the Symantec certificate business in that equation?

Bill Holtz: [Conner] and I had a successful run at EnTrust. There are a number of opportunities we have with Comodo. I was the CIO of Expedia, and as a result, I have a number of friends who are still CIOs.

There’s an amazing amount of anger, frustration and denial from customers in terms of what happened with Symantec’s certificate business.
Bill HoltzCEO of Comodo CA

There’s an amazing amount of anger, frustration and denial from customers in terms of what happened with Symantec’s certificate business. They’re wondering how on earth they put their trust in the biggest player in the space, and today they have to divert time and effort to address the issues with Symantec’s business.

Customers invested in that brand, which is now switching to DigiCert, and I think they’re still hoping at the 11th hour, things are going to be OK. The march is coming this year. Google starts to pull trust from these older Symantec certificates, and then, in October, when Chrome 70 comes out, they’ll pull the rest of the trust [for Symantec’s old PKI]. It’s really causing a lot of churn in this industry.

I see a lot of anger, I see frustration, I see confusion and I see customers in denial. We have to restore trust in this industry. I think Symantec and DigiCert have their hands full right now. You saw Mozilla’s concern about the deal. Who’s buying who? They have a tremendous amount of work ahead of them.

On Comodo’s side, we’re No. 1 in this space in terms of the number of certificates issued; Symantec is No. 1 in terms of revenue because of their enterprise customer base. I want to take what is a very, very good foundation here and turbocharge it.

There’s going to be a significant focus on the internet-of-thing space with IoT certificates, and we’re going to make sure we properly serve our customers. We want to provide that level of service and stability that I think both customers and partners are looking for.

When you saw the issues within Symantec’s certificate business that were publicized last year by Google and Mozilla, were you concerned about what you might find within Comodo? Did you take a hard look at the business before joining?

Conner: Absolutely. I can assure you, there was vetting. When EnTrust went private [in 2009], FP looked at us. But at that time, FP couldn’t get their head around the PKI certificate business. It just scared them. They didn’t know it. And that’s how we ended up with Thoma Bravo, and it was a great run for us.

But that’s where Thoma Bravo got some experience in this space, and that’s why after they sold EnTrust — which was six-and-half times their initial investment and their largest return ever — they decided they liked the space and went after DigiCert. But the difference this time around was that FP had [Holtz] and myself and a bunch of the talent in the space to help perform real due diligence on, frankly, both assets [Symantec and Comodo]. So, we knew what needed to be done on one and what didn’t need to be done on the other.

What was your reaction when you saw Google had announced such severe measures for Symantec’s certificates?

Conner: Symantec’s problems were happening back in 2013. It’s been going on for a while. This wasn’t new behavior. You’ve read it, you’ve seen and you wrote about it. This wasn’t new.

Holtz: It actually makes me more bullish about this industry. You have to be accountable. We are in the trust business. Now, if Google has woken up one morning and did what they did over one incident, I’d be hugely concerned. But Symantec’s problems went on for three years. Three years of Google saying Symantec needed to clean up their act. And instead of cleaning up their act, they poked Google in the eyeball, denied what was going on and didn’t fix it.

I think the accountability that Google tried to bring actually reinforces our position, because we do want that kind of vetting, and we do want to be accountable. I think corporate DNA matters. And Symantec’s corporate DNA was not in SSL certificates. Its DNA is in security, but a different kind of security. It wasn’t in SSL. But they bought those cash cows, put them on the sideline, didn’t pay a lot of attention to them and, now, you see the fallout from that.

At Comodo, we’re going to stick to our DNA; it’s certificates all day, every day. Yes, we’re doing IoT certificates. And we’ll do full lifecycle management, and we’ll offer innovative solutions to our customers in terms, but you’ll see us stick to our knitting, and that is certificates.