CASE APPLICATION: Managing the Virus Hunters Imagine what life would be like if your product were never finished, if your work were never done, if…

CASE APPLICATION: Managing the Virus HuntersImagine what life would be like if your product were never finished, if your work were never done, if your market shifted 30 times a day. The computer-virus hunters at Symantec Corp. don’t have to imagine. That’s the reality of their daily work life. At the company’s Response Lab in Santa Monica, California, described as the “dirtiest of all our networks at Syamntec”, software analysts collect viruses and other suspicious code and try to rigure out how they work so security updates can be provided to the company’s customers. By the door to the lab, there’s even a hazardous materials box marked “Danger” where they put all the disks, tapes, and hard drives with the nasty viruses that need to be carefully and completely disposed of. Symantec’s situation may seem unique, but the company, which makes content and network security software for both consumers and businesses, reflects ther elaities facing many organizations today: quickly shifting customer expectations and continuously emerging global competitors that have drastically shortened product life cycles. Managing talented people in such an environment can be quite challenging as well.Vincent Weafer, a native of Ireland, has been the leader of Symantec’s virus-hunting team since 1999. Back then, he said, “There were less than two dozen people, and… nothing really happened. We’d see maybe five new viruses a day, and they would spread in a matter of months, not minutes.” Now, Symantec’s virus hunters around the world deal withs ome 20,000 virus samples each month, not all of which are unique, stand-alone viruses. To make the hunters’ jobs even more interesting,c omputer attacks are increasingly being spread by criminals anting to stela information,w hether corporate data or personal user account information that can be used in fraud. Dealing with these critical and time sensitive issues requires special talents. The response-center team is a diverse group whose members weren’t easy to find. Says Weaver, “It’s not as if colleges are creating thousands of anti-malware or security experts every year that we can hire. If you find them in any part of the world, you just go after them.” The response-center team’s makeup reflects that. For instance, one senior researcher is from Hungary; another is from Iceland; and another works out of her home in Melbourne, Florida. But they all share something in common: They’re all motivated by solving problems.The launch of the Blaster-B worm in August 2003 changed the company’s approach to dealing with viruses. The domino effect of Blaster-B and other viruses spawned by it meant the frontline software analysts were working around the clock for almost 2 weeks. The “employee burnout” potential made the company realize that its virus hunting team would now have to be much deeper talent-wise. Now, the response center’s team numbers in the hundreds and managers can rotate people from the front lines, where theyr’e responsible for responding to new security threats that crop up, into groups where they can help with new product development. Others write internal research papers. Still others are assigned to develop new tools that will help their colleagues battle the next wave of threats. There’s even an individual who tries to figure out what makes the virus writers tick- and the day never ends for these virus hunters. When Santa Monica’s team ifnishes its day, colleagues in Tokyo take over. When the Japanese team finishes its day, it hands off to Dublin, who then hands back to Santa Monica for the new day. It’s a frenetic,c haotic, challenging work environment that spans the entire globe. But Weafer says his goals are to “try to take the choas out, to make the exciting boring”, to have a predictable and well-defined process for dealing with the virus threats, and to spread work evenly to the company’s facilities around the world. It’s a managerial challenge that Weafer has embraced. DISCUSSION QUESTIONS1. Keeping professionals excited about work that is routine and standardized and chaotic is a major challenge for Vincent Weafer. How could he use technical, human, and conceptual skills to maintain an environment that encourages innovation and professionalism among the virus hunters?2. What management roles owuld Vincent be playing as he (a) had weekly security briefing conference calls with coworkers around the globe, (b) assessed the feasibility of adding a new network security consulting service, or (c) kept employees focused on the company’s commitments to customers?3. Go to Symantec’s Web site ( and look up information about the company. What can you tell about its emphasis on customer service and innovation? In what ways does the organizations upport its employees in servicing customers and in being innovative? 4. What could other managers learn from Vincent Weafer and Symantec’s approach?

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