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3/7/2005
11:09 AM
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Customer?s Gripe Blamed On Symantec's Success

Ever had a problem with a product, couldn't get help from the vendor, and wished you could let the company's CEO know of your frustration? Chuck Smith got his chance as he came face-to-face with Symantec CEO John Thompson.

Ever had a problem with a product, couldn't get help from the vendor, and wished you could let the company's CEO know of your frustration? Chuck Smith got his chance as he came face-to-face with Symantec CEO John Thompson.At last week's Information Processing Interagency Conference, a gathering of federal government IT managers sponsored by Government Information Technology Executive Council, Thompson had just completed a keynote address when attendee Smith rose to address the Symantec CEO. At the conference marketing an Air Force portal, Smith said he had problems installing a Symantec product on his home PC. He tried contacting Symantec by E-mail but never got a response, and the software didn't offer any other way for him to contact the security vendor. The audience of a few hundred government IT managers applauded in support of Smith.

Thompson apologized. But, without missing a beat, the CEO blamed the problem on Symantec's success and an outsourcer. In the past four years, Thompson said, Symantec's consumer business has grown 50% a quarter, soaring to 140 million customers worldwide. Symantec had outsourced a portion of its online subscription renewals and couldn't keep up with the demand. He promised the problem will be resolved within weeks. "I apologize," the CEO repeated to Smith. "This is a clear result of the mild success we've had in the marketplace. It's an unintended consequences."

Afterward, Smith said he accepted Thompson's apology but wasn't totally satisfied with the CEO's explanation. Companies such as Symantec, Smith said, protect themselves from their customers by making it difficult for users to get help. "There should be more ways to communicate," Smith said. "Hearing from customers could benefit the vendors, too."

***

Do vendors know your organization better than you do?

That seems to be what Treasury CIO Ira Hobbs believes. CIOs on a panel at the Information Processing Interagency Conference were asked how they educate themselves. Hobbs said he attends conferences such as IPIC with a strong vendor presence: "I see all my service providers here," he said. "I find out more about my job here than back there. Look at the number of people here and imagine the contacts they have with my organization. They're better informed than I am."

***

Vendors seemed to outnumber government IT pros at IPIC. A survey conducted at the conference on federal government IT priorities had 79 government and 158 industry respondents.

The survey, conducted by CDW-Government, a subsidiary of the distributor of IT wares, showed that 43% of government respondents designated information security as their top priority. [Industry reps at the conference ranked cybersecurity as the No. 1 government IT priority.]

Nearly one-fourth of federal IT managers responding felt more confident in their chances of winning the lottery than securing full funding for E-government initiatives. And about half the government respondents felt it more likely that Lance Armstrong would win an unprecedented seventh Tour de France bicycle race than the government would receive a B in 2005 on the Federal Computer Security Report Card issued by the House Government Reform Committee. The governmentwide grade for 2004 was a D.

***

Tom Davis, the Virginia Republican who chairs the Government Reform Committee, thinks gatherings such as IPIC that bring together government IT managers and the vendors they buy goods and services from is a good idea and can help win more support for IT security initiatives in Congress. Vendors are constituents who can lobby their congressional representatives, most of whom don't understand the importance of IT security, Davis suggests.

"It's important for outside organizations to educate Congress about E-government and cybersecurity," Davis said in a statement released with the survey. "Few members-maybe 10 out of 535-fully understand the importance of FISMA [Federal Information Security Management Act]. If you don't have constituent interest in this area, there are few incentives for members to get involved until there is some downside: either a cyber Pearl Harbor, companies lose money, or people get hurt."

***

Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy doesn't like how the feds approach cybersecurity. "I don't feel very safe," McNealy told IPIC attendees. "I don't see the architecture. … I don't see the alignment, the commitment to the compliance of that architecture."

McNealy, in his keynote, seemed to suggest that the United States needs a chief information officer, someone who would have absolute veto power over the design of government IT security. That's how Sun works, he told government IT managers attending IPIC. "I wonder who the government CIO is?" he asked. Sitting in the first row was Karen Evans, the top-ranking White House official whose official title is Office of Management and Budget administrator for E-government and IT. Because she's also chair of the federal CIO Council, many people have given the federal CIO moniker to Evans. But Evans says she's not the CIO. If anyone is, she said, it's her boss, Clay Johnson, OMB's deputy director for management.

***

Being introduced to attendees at IPIC, Evans was described as having an unusual hobby: watermelons. She explained that she creates wooden art depicting the fruit in unusual colors. Asked how she finds time to have a hobby, Evans explained: "I pick hobbies you can finish within an hour," she said, later adding: "The thing that goes is sleep. You work without sleep."

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