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Avinash Advani, the Founder, and CEO of CyberKnight, speaks about what worked for his company in 2020 and what he expects from the upcoming year

How was 2020 for the industry and your company?
2020 was a shock to both the industry, as well as, CyberKnight. The industry was rattled in H1 as orders slowed drastically and budgets were put on hold, but then there was light at the end of the tunnel as we started to emerge from the lockdown in H2, with exponential funnel growth, a steady increase in orders, and budgets being reprovisioned, albeit with a focus on doing more with less.

As a start-up having launched operations shortly before the pandemic hit, we were definitely caught off guard when our ability to execute on our year-one plans suddenly ground to a halt after only a quarter. That being said, we made the most of working from home in Q2 and conducted focused online campaigns to help customers understand the risks associated with remote working, as well as, the importance of Zero Trust.

In H2, we went back to the office, although most meetings were virtual, and we did our very best to make up for the previous quarter by maximizing pipeline creation, aligning closely with our strategic partners, and helping evangelize Zero Trust Security as advisors to enterprise and government organizations across the Middle East.

 Overall, the cybersecurity industry seems to have observed slight growth in 2020, while other IT domains, unfortunately, witnessed the opposite effect. From a company perspective, under the most challenging circumstances, CyberKnight managed to go from start-up to a scale-up in a year, for which I am truly grateful.

What sort of opportunities did 2020 bring along?
Although some countries have had work-from-home cultures for some time, 2020 taught us that remote working will be part of the new normal, globally. This creates efficiencies for some companies that can reduce their office space overhead and its associated costs, but this digital transformation has created new complex IT environments that in turn come with security gaps that need to be bridged with intelligent security.

As we saw over the course of the pandemic, cyber attackers continued their onslaught and therefore it is critical for organizations to think about Zero Trust Security. The traditional perimeter is vanishing, remote and mobile users are the norm, and the cloud is everywhere, so security needs to follow the data, users, and applications, no matter where they are located.

Did you face any challenges in 2020?
Those that survived 2020 fought an uphill battle to meet annual targets that were set pre-COVID, due to market softening created by lockdowns. The emergence saw a new reality set in whereby forecastability and linearity in pipeline management became uncertain and unpredictable, primarily due to delays that were observed in procurement cycles, as well as cancelled/deferred/consolidated budgets.

What were your key achievements in 2020?
CyberKnight’s official launch was in January 2020. The months that ensued saw the onboarding of 23 market-leading cybersecurity vendors mapped to the Zero Trust Security framework. We were able to deploy local teams across all key Middle East markets, with our headquarters in Dubai and a local office in Riyadh, enabling local invoicing in Saudi Arabia as well. We transacted more than 60 strategic partners across the region, who in turn have sold one or more of our technologies to more than 100 end-users.

What promises does 2021 bring along?
It will take time for companies to transition from conservativeness to optimism, and this may be reflected in slower hiring and expansion, as well as, more cautious target-setting, as companies make the most out of existing investments.

We are hoping that the vaccine will be effective and the world will reach herd immunity as soon as possible so that Coronavirus times can be put behind us. From a company perspective, our theme for 2021 will be “The Year of Stabilization”, which means letting the dust settle, bringing certainty to business operations, and confidence to achieving business goals.

Do you see opportunities in the regional markets with new markets opening up?
2021 will see our continued focus on the Middle East and Africa region. We see significant potential in Egypt as a new market ripe for on-the-ground investments.

According to you, which technologies will be in demand in 2021?
From a cybersecurity perspective: 

  • XDR and AI-based prevention technologies that protect against ransomware and nation-state attacks will be board-level priorities
  • Cloud Security
  • Remote Workforce Security
  • IT/OT Security Convergence

What will be your key focus areas for 2021?
We are 100% cybersecurity-focused and have built our offering around Zero Trust Security. In 2020 we launched our Unified Threat Intelligence campaign, and in 2021 we will be looking at a new story encompassing SecOps and Threat Hunting.

What milestones have you set for 2021?
As the market hopefully returns to some semblance of normalcy, we will be looking to double revenue, achieve higher profitability through value-add business, and optimize processes.

What would you like to do differently in 2021, when compared with 2020?
My hope is that face-to-face end-user meetings resume so that we can once again meet our strategic customers in-person.

Do you plan to enter new markets or add new products/applications to your portfolio in 2021? 
Yes definitely, but the expansion into new markets depends on how quickly the markets return to normal trading conditions. Based on the roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccines, we will be evaluating the addition of local resources in Egypt.

Also, we are always looking at portfolio evolution and enhancement. Therefore, portfolio changes will happen throughout the year as we aim to complete our offering and plug gaps with best-of-breed cybersecurity vendors.

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