Q&A: Symantec CEO John Thompson on poor customer service, storage standards

'We need to go back to the genesis of why we did what we did'

After struggling to consolidate its ERP systems following its buyout of Veritas in 2005, Symantec Chairman and CEO John Thompson now says his company has only temporarily addressed issues around poor customer service by overstaffing. In a recent interview with Computerworld, Thompson addressed online licensing problems as well as how the company's Storage United and data center automation will allow administrators to consolidate management across multiple vendor storage products.

Excerpts from that interview follow:

Have you sufficiently addressed related customer service issues and long telephone waits?  We think we have by overstaffing, but that's not a sustainable model, so we have to fix the technology underpinnings. There's a new release of the portal that is forthcoming. … I've kind of lost track where we are timing-wise … but we threw an awful lot of head count at this wait-time problem. Wait times from their peak of well over an hour are down to now under two minutes. I think we have addressed it; if your readers say we haven't, then I'd like to hear that [see "Piracy ring hits Symantec, slows Veritas license rollout "].

When can customers begin to see true integration between Symantec and Veritas products? I think you already see that with Backup Exec System Recovery, where we've taken the system recovery tools out of the Symantec portfolio and embedded them into Backup Exec so you now have a seamless recovery process either for the data or the application or the operating environment. Also, Symantec Endpoint Protection incorporates file systems technology from Veritas that allows us to get at rootkits, which are one of the most daunting challenges in the security realm. We'll continue to do those kinds of integrations where it makes sense. But to say I'm going to take NetBackup and tie it to our malicious content-scanning capability -- I don't think the market needs that. We have to be thoughtful about where can we integrate these technologies, and that's been the path we've been on. At the time we announced the acquisition to the marketplace, we said it would take us 18-24 months before we start to ship converged integrated products. Well, that's exactly where we are. Now if there are other things customers would like to see us do, we're all ears to listen.

How does Storage United and its proposed software integration approach solve overlapping responsibilities within the data center? Our initiatives around Storage United and data center automation or our standardization story around what we do in the data center are all about trying to get a horizontal view where I have common technologies that run on all these disparate systems. Then I'm able to optimize the human capital because I can train a storage administrator once on my software and he or she can manage a device from EMC, a device from NetApp, a device from Hitachi, a device from Dell, a device from HP -- you pick it -- because they now have a common interface and a common set of tools across all those disparate operating environments. I think that's a better way of thinking about data center optimization and what [organizations] are currently doing.

Targeting consolidation in the data center will likely bring you into conflict with larger systems vendors. Are you prepared for that? I think we have been able to demonstrate that to a number of customers over the last 12 months where we've gone in and said to them, "If you standardize on our technology, we can show you significant cost savings over a three-to-five-year period." As a matter of fact, I'm well aware of a big money center bank in New York where we went in and did an ROI analysis, which demonstrated that they could save almost $200 million by standardizing on our data center infrastructure technologies versus what they were doing from a variety of vendors in their shop. It's our intent to accelerate the rollout of that program this year so we can show customers not just the capabilities of the products in our portfolio, but help them take complexity and cost out of running their business and benefit from that on the bottom line.

Why did your new ERP system rollout create massive software licensing problems for end users? (see "ERP rollout continues to weigh down Symantec") First, we need to go back to the genesis of why we did what we did. We needed to consolidate our two ERP instances, one for Veritas and one for Symantec, because it wouldn't allow us to get to common buying programs, common structures for our partners and customers. With respect to licensing, particularly for some of the higher-volume products, it was important in our minds to know who in fact was using the products. In the old schema that we had, licenses went out, but we didn't keep track of who had it. Therefore, the renewal process was much more difficult for us and our partners than hopefully it will be as we go forward. But I think what we underestimated was just the sheer volume. So as we built the portal, the portal had a design dimension to it, to [support] lower volume than was actually there. We triaged it by throwing a lot of people at it. We ramped up the head count in our support staff by 150 or more people just to manage down the volume. We have tuned the technology to the point that it will be significantly better than it was in its first release.

How does Symantec define itself? Are acquisitions shaping that image? To try to define us as a security company or storage company or as a server management company, I think, is a bit more narrow than appropriate, given the breadth of our portfolio. We have been an anquisitive company forever and that's not a phenomenon I brought to Symantec. That predated me. I think given what's going on in our industry around us it's inevitable that more and more transactions are going to occur. Not just by Symantec, but by other companies as well.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon