Symantec Says Worst Is Over

Despite a year of disappointments, Symantec's top executives maintain that the company is primed for a sharp comeback in 2008. One reason, executives say, is that they have seen a rise in customer satisfaction based on internal surveys from partners, particularly in the areas of licensing and ease of doing business.

"We saw a significant increase in partner satisfaction," said Julie Parrish, Symantec vice president of global channel sales and strategy. "I am not hearing about that (as a problem) anymore."

In fact, over the course of this year Symantec has released several licensing portal upgrades, Parrish added.

If there is a light at the end of the tunnel, it's been a long journey. Symantec execs said that the company began its downward spiral when it merged their IT infrastructure with that of storage vendor Veritas around Oracle's ERP platform in November 2006. Meanwhile, the company simultaneously introduced new buying programs and changed its software licensing terms. Among the barrage of integration problems following the Veritas purchase, Symantec suffered greatly in the areas of support, as well as its purchasing and licensing programs. In the wake of the acquisition, Symantec support lines were flooded with calls which led to long wait times and soaring administrative and labor costs.

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"We had the perfect storm," said Parrish, describing what happened to Symantec's systems. "It spiraled in lots of negative feedback."

The beleaguered company has since suffered a round of layoffs in March that reduced personnel by 5 percent, saving the company $200 million. In addition, the company has seen several departures of top executives in the last two years, including the president of its security and data management group, chief technology officer and chief financial officer.

More than a year after the merger, execs assert that its problems are starting to be resolved. As a barometer of Symantec's progress, wait times and support lines for customer and partner care have gone back to pre-November 2006 levels, due in part to beefed up personnel and increased online self-help and administrative tools, Parrish said.

And some partners agree that systems have become more efficient over the past 12 months. Gary Cannon, president of Advanced Internet Security based in Colorado Springs, said that he has seen improvement in the support process over the last half of the year. "The first six months of this year I spent half my time trying to get things fixed," he said. "Now they have a support Web site up. A lot of times I'll have a corrected certificate within an hour," adding "It's still not perfect."

The positive outlook comes on the heels of a recent round of layoffs which removed two top executives from the company -- Marlene Williamson, vice president of Americas marketing, and Erna Arnesen, vice president of global SMB and industry and partner marketing.

While Parrish avoided going into details about the layoffs that impacted the partner organization, she asserted that number was small, adding that the individuals let go were not in "critical channel roles."

However, other channel partners argue that Symantec's rosy forecast is premature. Darrel Bowman, CEO of AppTech, based in Tacoma, Wash. said that there was definitely room for improvement. "When Symantec acquired Veritas, we were excited that Symantec would bring its customer service and support and VAR channel friendliness to Veritas. It hasn't been quite that way," he said. "It's been more of lessening of the Symantec culture of days gone past and it has diluted that successful formula. And now it's come to this. I think they had it right once."

The barrage of scrutiny that Symantec faced in the last 12 months has not been anomalous. "The system made it appear we were harder to do business with. The word on the street was loud and vocal," said Randy Cochran, Symantec vice president of channel sales.

Whether the IT security giant will eventually emerge triumphant or will suffer the historical fate of most empires remains to be determined.

"All of that has occurred post Veritas merger. We're hopeful that in the future Symantec will rebound and gain the credibility of days gone by," Bowman added.

In hindsight, Parrish said that they were "not as prepared as they would have liked to have been and the usability of the tool sets was challenging," while describing the attempts to overcome the problems as "hand to hand combat and fire fighting" that preceded, and often times inhibited, the company's ability to get a process in place for a change in management, software recording or repairs.

Parrish said that her next priority is focusing on tech support for Symatec's partner community and presales technical education. The company will also continue its focus in the SMB markets served by VARs. Parrish said that while Symantec cannot afford to provide its partners 24/7 access to engineers, "there is a happy medium to improve the process and experience and the overall quality."

Additional reporting by Bob DeMarzo