In April, Bill Conner became Entrusts president and CEO — and hes grabbed the wheel at a shaky time. Despite being a market leader in public key infrastructure (PKI) technology and other security technologies, Entrust had a disappointing first quarter and laid off nearly a third of its work force. Conner, who as Nortel Networks first chief marketing officer made Nortel into a household name, brings to Entrust an aversion to “technical gobbledygook.” As part of remaking the company, hes already changed its name: The old “Entrust Technologies” is now simply “Entrust.” Conner spoke with Senior Writer Brian Ploskina.
It has been several years since we first began to sing the praises of PKI technologies. At the time it seemed like PKI would be on every desktop, and everyone would be sending messages using digital certificates. What happened?
I think people got fixated on PKI technology, and not on what it does. One of the misperceptions in our first-quarter miss was that the demand for PKI had gone away, when actually, when you looked at what happened, we had as many customers as we had before. What changed is that people used to buy a bunch of enterprise licenses, and now they want to pay as they go and buy as much as they need for specific applications. . . . What Entrust is trying to do is move away from technical gobbledygook and ask, “What are businesses trying to do?”
You were responsible for turning Nortel into a widely recognizable brand name. Is that your goal with Entrust?
One of the things that excited me about coming to Entrust was the high number of inflection points in high tech. What I got excited about was, I looked at all this data out there, and it said the next hot market spot is Internet security. Entrust has a wide breadth of technology, but what it hadnt exactly done is align it with the customer requirements. Sound familiar? Now weve squared away the financials, and were creating a new brand image and breaking the technology into what its used for. So now the CEO can understand it, not just the CIO [chief information officer].
How much are we letting our guard down when we open our networks to partners for business-to-business transactions?
Only about 15 percent of the supply chain is online. While people are opening it up, theyre opening it up for commodity, low-value and low-sensitive transactions. The more valued a transaction, the more the demand for enhanced Internet security.
How much of Entrusts job is to get the public to trust the Internet?
I think its our No. 1 job. I think the Internet security space has done a terrible job of communicating, in laymans terms, what Internet security is and how to deal with it, as opposed to talking about PKI and authentication and a bunch of technical mumbo jumbo.