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Better in Theory, Than in Practice

By Lawrence Walsh  |  Posted 2008-03-31 Print this article Print

The software Vendor's Project oasis, code name for a massive ERP overhaul, nearly crippled its ordering system. Refocusing on the user experience and connecting with a hidden class of customers salvaged the company's business. 

Theory always works better in the lab than in the wild, as Symantec was soon to discover. For users, ordering new software suddenly became cumbersome. The automated system required numerous steps none of the users had performed previously. The system didn’t necessarily leave users hanging, but the additional steps gave users the sense they weren’t placing orders correctly. The resulting frustration and confusion had customers swamping the Symantec support call center, resulting in hold times of 30 minutes or more.

“When they went live, it was one of the most painful processes,” recalls Jodi Honore, vice president of vendor management for software at Ingram Micro, one of Symantec’s largest distribution partners.

It sounds like mayhem, but Symantec management describes it as watching storm clouds gather in the distance. From the moment the system went live, systemic problems and baffled partners smoldered like embers in a lightning-sparked brush fire. Within a month, the fire was raging. By April 2007, it was an inferno.

Ironically, the system was performing as designed—to a fault. The problem was that Symantec had inadvertently created the perfect storm: It had failed to consider the user experience with the new system, it hadn’t correctly identified the true users of the system and it had layered other projects on top of the ERP implementation, thereby complicating the launch and generating more confusion.

*Some companies choose to stay away from ERP systems altogether. Take  Fortune 500 Wesco International with $5.3 billion in revenues.

Compounding the situation was the simultaneous launch of a new, integrated licensing program that unified Symantec’s and Veritas’ schema. Partners and distributors were enraged by the new system. Implementers couldn’t make sense of the information Symantec’s portal was giving them. Competitors salivated at the opportunity to steal market share amid the chaos.

“The amount of change was just too great,” says Julie Parrish, vice president of Symantec’s Global Channel Office. “The human brain cannot possibly absorb all the changes we threw out to them.”

The extended Symantec ecosystem was near a full-blown revolt. If the problems weren’t fixed, Symantec could lose serious revenue and market share. Project Nero was launched to diagnose the problems, correct the fielding of Oasis, and ensure that systems and processes were put in place to avert a repeat of the disaster.

Lawrence Walsh Lawrence Walsh is editor of Baseline magazine, overseeing print and online editorial content and the strategic direction of the publication. He is also a regular columnist for Ziff Davis Enterprise's Channel Insider. Mr. Walsh is well versed in IT technology and issues, and he is an expert in IT security technologies and policies, managed services, business intelligence software and IT reseller channels. An award-winning journalist, Mr. Walsh has served as editor of CMP Technology's VARBusiness and GovernmentVAR magazines, and TechTarget's Information Security magazine. He has written hundreds of articles, analyses and commentaries on the development of reseller businesses, the IT marketplace and managed services, as well as information security policy, strategy and technology. Prior to his magazine career, Mr. Walsh was a newspaper editor and reporter, having held editorial positions at the Boston Globe, MetroWest Daily News, Brockton Enterprise and Community Newspaper Company.
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