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Lessons learned: Symbol's Nuti looks to verticals

LAS VEGAS -- In January, William Nuti took over as CEO of Symbol Technologies Inc., the second largest enterprise wireless LAN infrastructure provider after Cisco Systems Inc. Nuti, who originally joined the company in July of 2002 as the COO, stepped into the top slot following the departure of Symbol's CEO Richard Bravman in the midst of an SEC investigation into five years of overstated revenues.

Since then, Nuti has cleaned house. He replaced 15 of 16 top managers, bringing in talent from Cisco and across the Fortune 500. Perhaps more importantly, Nuti has infused the company with a new passion for wireless infrastructure management. At Networld+Interop this year, Symbol released the Mobility Services Suite, which bolsters its management offerings and attempts to make Symbol more competitive as a wireless infrastructure player. caught up with Nuti at N+I to learn more about how he is changing the company.

What did you bring to Symbol from your years of experience at Cisco?
A few things that I am applying here that I learned at Cisco are the importance of a corporate culture -- one that is supportive of the business, a management system to run the business successfully and the competitive spirit. But we are not trying to create another Cisco. We are trying to create a great Symbol, and we can do that because we have a great management team. We have people from Cisco, from General Motors, Agere Systems, Inc., IBM, International Paper Co. We are incorporating best practices from a variety of Fortune 500 companies. How much of a priority is it for Symbol to move out of vertical markets and into the horizontal, 'carpeted' enterprise?
We will be happy to take a PO from any customer that wants to deploy our equipment, whether it is a thick access point or a switch. Our strategy is focused on how to create an enterprise mobility system at the edge of the network, where wireless is an ingredient for creating that enterprise mobility. We get criticized for being oriented towards verticals because our roots are largely in retail. Most of our wins have been in retail, however, as mobility gains traction in other vertical markets, we are there as well.

Sooner or later, if you are the gorilla in all verticals, you are the gorilla across the enterprise.
William Nuti
CEOSymbol Technologies

Are we going to build a new sales force to go out and sell vanilla wireless access to data network applications? No, not today. We are going to remain focused on our core vision, which is an enterprise mobility system at the edge. I believe that is going to take us into the carpeted space. Some say that Symbol missed a huge opportunity with wireless. It was one of the pioneers, but it stayed focused on the vertical market instead of the high-growth horizontal market. Was that a mistake?
Looking back to when we first brought out wireless products in the late 1980s, that is probably true. We never built a channel to sell wireless networks into the carpeted space. But it is also important to note that that is not a core competency of the company.

It is a matter of focusing and overwhelming. You only have limited resources. We want to become the gorilla in transportation, logistics, manufacturing and in healthcare. If we can do that vertical by vertical, solving real problems, sooner or later, if you are the gorilla in all verticals, you are the gorilla across the enterprise. How do other wireless technologies -- such as GPRS, CDMA and RFID -- fit into Symbol's strategy?
We have already integrated CDMA radios and GPRS in our computers. We are working with service providers to certify our devices on their networks, and also to help them bring new solutions to market like managed enterprise mobility services. The management platform we provide also helps them to drive greater visibility. It gives enterprises equal visibility for what goes on their own network, even though it may be a managed service. What are your primary revenue streams today? Where do you see real growth potential?
Advanced data capture, including scanning, is about 25% of our business. Mobile computing is about 60% and wireless infrastructure is about 15%. Our fourth division is our mobility software division, which just launched today so we expect high growth from that. We expect wireless infrastructure to be the higher growth of the three mature segments. Advanced data capture, which is really the legacy business right now, becomes the growth engine in 2007 once RFID comes on line. What technologies are the most important to you going forward?
It will be RFID in advanced data capture, and biometrics in mobile computing. In wireless infrastructure, it is technologies like Wi-Max. In our mobility software unit, it is continuing to build up our core capabilities of element management and then services like messaging, RFID, voice and security.

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