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Altiris seeks to improve support in wake of Wise buy

Altiris has promised several product-support improvements to prove to its new Wise Solutions customers that it's serious about serving them. Some of those customers say they'll keep an open mind.

Recognizing that its own rapid growth may have hurt its ability to offer good customer support, Altiris Inc. says that it will take steps early next year to improve its customer support programs.

The need for better support is crucial, particularly as Salt Lake City-based Altiris moves to incorporate into its product line the software of Wise Solutions Inc. Altiris acquired the Plymouth, Mich.-based maker of application and installation management software for $43 million earlier this month.

Wise has a reputation for selling software that is easy to use and is well supported by the company. Although Altiris' products are also well regarded, some customers complain about the quality of support they receive.

One management consultant said that, when you look at the overall process of software distribution, the most failures come from poor preparation and lack of understanding about how the product works -- especially when you are dealing with repackaging software.

"If the user doesn't understand the whole process, you are setting yourself up for problems, and the only way to thwart this is training and support," said the consultant, who asked not to be named. The support staff must be better trained, he said.

And this is where Altiris has dropped the ball. "I like Altiris, and the people are good, but they just haven't been very fast," said Jack Nielsen, a desktop architect at Ashland Inc., a Covington, Ky.-based construction, oil and chemical company. "I'm leery. I just hope that, when the two companies are combined, that we get the best of both."

Executives at Altiris say they are hoping for exactly that. Poul Nielsen, vice president of marketing and product strategy at Altiris, said that, in January, his company will reveal some changes to its support infrastructure that will coincide with the release of the next version of its systems management software.

Some of these changes include incorporating more technological self-help options. Additionally, the company will collapse 16 individual support forums into one portal monitored by Altiris' staff. The company is also adding about 15 to 20 people to help answer support calls.

The support portal will include information such as frequently asked questions and a catalog of support articles. Nielsen said that Altiris has analyzed its support incidents and found that many customers are asking the same or similar questions. The hope is that most of those folks can find their answer with the support portal, without having to wait for help.

Nielsen said that Wise will retain its own support organization and, over the course of the next year, the company will determine how it can extend some of the Wise support practices worldwide. "We recognize that customer satisfaction for Wise support is great, and we won't do anything to disrupt that," Nielsen said.

Nielsen said Altiris and Wise share some similar support practices. The main difference is that Altiris is dealing with production-level issues so that the support structure operates around the clock. Wise technologies tend to be more focused on projects, so the support is only offered during business hours. Altiris said that Wise support hours will be expanded so that customers worldwide can have the option of calling in for live help during their business hours.

Altiris is currently in the process of putting in place its integration plans for Wise, said Jan Newman, vice president of corporate business development at Altiris. First, the marketing and product teams will work more closely together and adopt common methodologies. Sales organizations will be last to integrate. During the next few weeks, teams will pull together road maps that will provide more details about the extent of the integration, he said.

Wise customers will be watching closely for any changes that might affect the Wise software. "The only downside [to the acquisition of Wise] would be if Wise products lost some of their features," said Michael Schorr, a network analyst at Ace Hardware Corp., Oakbrook, Ill. "But since there is such a strong market of non-Altiris customers, I can't see that happening."

Altiris will continue to offer a standalone version of Wise Package Studio, Newman said: "We know that's an issue for customers and partners."


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