Symantec`s Midnight at the Oasis

Ordering Symantec software is a breeze for Stephen Nacci, director of vendor relations at TLIC Worldwide, a software reseller in Rhode Island.

Processing product and licensing requests through the vendor’s online portal has never been easier, and the amount of attention the reseller gets from his regional representative has never been higher. Nacci’s company has even gotten calls inquiring about the quality of customer service and support from Symantec CEO John Thompson.

“They’ve got it together a lot better,” says Nacci. “We’re getting a lot more timely responses from them—quicker service, more attention and better responses to our needs.”

Doing business with Symantec today is a far cry better than it was just one year ago at the height of a crisis that shook the security and storage software vendor to its core.

In November 2006, Symantec flicked the switch on a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system designed to let partners and customers order products and activate licenses. Internally, it was called Project Oasis, a major step in the merger of Symantec and Veritas. Once implemented, the combined company’s vast network of resellers, integrators, distributors and customers would place orders through a single system that included all the tools and information needed for intelligent software purchasing.

Technically, Project Oasis, an upgrade to Oracle 11d, was flawless. The code, interface and system—aside from some conflicting records that made accounting difficult to interpret—went exactly as Symantec had conceived when it launched the project in May 2005.

But users didn’t understand the system. The voluminous information it provided them and the myriad steps required to place orders created confusion and poor usability. In fact, the system was so cumbersome that resellers and customers were on the verge of revolt. The problems were so acute that CEO Thompson blamed part of the company’s sluggish financial performance in the third quarter of fiscal year 2007 on the ERP plague.

“It probably cost them business,” Nacci recalls. “The system made it so you didn’t want to get involved with them.”

Despite all its planning, Symantec made numerous and near-fatal errors in preparing its users for the change in its ordering system. For one thing, the project management team failed to coordinate the rollout with other divisions that were launching new products at the same time. Despite its best efforts, the management team could not adequately prepare its more than 60,000 resellers, partners and distributors—and scores more customers—for the procedural changes required by the new system.

From the ashes of Project Oasis rose Project Nero, named for the Roman emperor who, the anachronistic legend has it, torched his capital city while cavalierly playing his fiddle. Symantec insiders say the name was chosen to convey the urgency and seriousness of the situation. If the problems weren’t resolved quickly, it could spell financial ruin for the vendor.

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

Project Nero, an ongoing effort, did more than just resolve the problems associated with the ERP implementation. Like the failed project it was designed to correct, Project Nero set off its own chain of events and initiatives that have transformed the way Symantec views its customers and runs its business. After a painful and arduous recovery process, Symantec has not only recovered, but now serves as an example of how to interact with customers and partners in the Web-enabled marketplace.

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