Takeover trend means 'users lose out'

Vendor mergers and their increasing impact on existing product lines often trigger critical support concerns among users. For one customer's site, a lack of support and pooraccount management forced a decision to switch vendors.

Gerard Kennedy, national network administrator for an Australia-wide wholesale company, contacted Computerworld after failing to attract Computer Associates' (CA) attention to critical support concerns for more than six months. In Kennedy's case, CA's acquisition of Cybec -- with its trademark Vet antivirus products -- paved the way for poor levels of support and customer service, he said.

He said his company's network, which spans 12 sites with 300 PCs, eight NetWare servers and 10 NT/Lotus Notes servers, remained vulnerable to virus attacks because "Vet supported some but not all our platforms, there was no integration and it was difficult keeping up with upgrades. It was not detecting infections."

Kennedy blames the current trend of takeovers, saying "when companies are swallowed up by multinationals, loss of local knowledge, support and staff means users lose out".

In fact, there are very few examples of mergers that have gone well, said Ian Bertram, principal analyst at Gartner Group, although he qualified "it depends on the size of the merger and the size of the companies".

"Large companies have more processes and systems to integrate, such as customer databases and supply chain," he added.

In a letter addressed to Cybec, Kennedy detailed his lengthy wait for Computer Associates to address his company's virus protection needs.

"We had a long meeting on June 21 [with Cybec and CA sales staff] and it was suggested that we look at migration to InnoculateIT . . . We never received any pricing or advice on how to proceed with the migration."

But CA officials have denied that this was a customer support issue.

"This is an isolated incident," Chris Wilson, regional vice president of channel sales at Computer Associates said.

"In this instance, we dropped the ball on account management following our acquisition of Cybec.

"When two companies merge, there is increased risk of hand-over problems," he added.

Bertram concurred, saying "there are a lot of emotions involved in mergers, particularly on the account management side".

Bertram warned acquiring companies to be aware of "maintaining staff on customer accounts".

It was this lack of account management that finally spurred Kennedy to migrate the company network to Network Associates' Total Virus Defence.

Since Computerworld contacted both parties, CA has endeavoured to reverse the situation.

"Computer Associates has apologised to the user for any inconvenience," Wilson said.

"We are meeting soon to discuss implementation of an enterprise-wide antivirus solution."

However, the customer service bugbear was not confined to a single incident.

In his letter to Cybec, Kennedy cited other support problems.

"Requests lodged via the Website have never been answered . . . calls logged to the help desk either take a very long time to get through to support staff, or we need to wait several days for support to ring back."

However, Wilson denied the allegations, saying "these problems date prior to Computer Associates' acquisition of Cybec."

Top tips from acquisitive companies

Steve Rust, managing director enterprise solutions, Nortel Networks:

-- If the acquiring company is more dominant, there can be a lack of understanding of the purchased company's customer support requirements.

-- The acquiring company should think through the merger from the customer's perspective to minimise risk of customer dissatisfaction.

Terry Walsh, managing director, Cisco:

-- When companies of equal size try to merge, employees are more concerned about saving their jobs than about customer service.

-- Cisco's general rules for acquiring companies include having a shared vision, including short- and long-term win-win outcomes; geographical proximity and a strong cultural fit.

-- Companies that make acquisitions to get into another market or to increase their market share will fail.

Russell Bate, managing director of Sun Microsystems:

Companies embarking on an acquisition must ensure they have done sufficient research on potential targets [to ensure] there is a good business case for the buy and sufficient synergy with the target company for the two organisations to amalgamate successfully.

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