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Disney details its CRM upgrade to Siebel 8.0

Walt Disney Parks and Resorts is one of the earliest companies to make the move to Siebel 8.0. Its IT recommends going slow.

One year ago, Robert Austin, an IT manager with Walt Disney Parks and Resorts (WDPR), left Siebel 8.0.

This year, he returned to OpenWorld in San Francisco as a representative of one of a handful of companies that have made the transition to the latest Siebel product. Austin then offered advice to fellow Siebel users at a session on upgrading to 8.0. WDPR finished its upgrade to Siebel 8.0 in May.

"I think we were one of the first," said Austin, who estimates the number of customers on Siebel 8.0 at 10 worldwide.

A need to add users to WDPR's installation of Siebel Call Center, Sales Enterprise, Marketing Enterprise and Media Enterprise modules provided the impetus for the latest upgrade. Disney Parks and Resorts had also recently upgraded to the SQL Server 2005 platform.

"Last year, I saw the 8.0 application here," Austin said, "and right away I saw a few things I knew we would benefit from -- one of which is the task-based UI."

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Case-sensitive queries constituted another feature that was "probably long overdue," and it added more robustness in querying the database in a time-sensitive manner, he said. Additionally, a Google-like keyword search function used in conjunction with a FAST search application provided immediate value for some user communities. Finally, the company had a few issues with synchronizing Outlook in 7.8 but knew it could correct that with the upgrade.

This one goes to 8

Austin is no stranger to Siebel upgrades. He's gone from Siebel 6 to Siebel 7, 7.5 to 7.7 and now 7.8 to 8.0.

The WDPR's application environment includes three Wintel SQL servers, 12 user communities and five instances of Siebel. The instance that Disney Parks and Resorts first upgraded was on Siebel 7.8.2 and had the least customization. It had 500 custom objects (screen views, applets, links) and a little over 100 lines of custom code.

While the upgrade began in Austin's mind last October, the advance work began in February. That included building the upgrade team, planning for the hardware and extra space needed, and conducting a feasibility study.

"We researched and reviewed the bookshelf extensively, as we knew we were walking through a new paradigm or blazing a trail for 8.0," Austin said. "We knew we had to scour all the documentation that was available."

The resource team included Austin acting as project manager, a front-end UI developer, and a back-end resource charged with a great deal of work.

"That, I felt, was a critical skill," Austin said. "He ran the upgrade through the wizards, installed software, ran the metrics, troubleshot the Web files and did all the things that made the upgrade what it was. Disney doesn't have a relationship with professional services. [Siebel] SupportWeb was a reasonable support structure for us."

Austin also established milestones along the way, including development, the development upgrade, database prep, the repository merge, the post-merge utilities, UPGPHYS, and installing and uninstalling.

"One of the last important milestones was preparing cleaning up the .srf," Austin said. "Sometimes your compile works, sometimes it doesn't. I can't emphasize how important backing up is. We had to restore from a backup maybe two or three times along the way. It's really beneficial to have that backup just to have that peace of mind."

Ultimately, the project ran three months, though if Disney Parks and Resorts had had more customized screens and views, that would have gone up significantly, Austin said. And there were a few other issues.

"During hardware setup, the database and application server were connected over a LAN, and that was not a good idea," Austin said. "We learned that right away. Given the way our upgrade was running while it was slow, we didn't want to pull the plug to co-locate those."

Austin also found that the latest version of Siebel relies on user properties "buried underneath objects."

"Beware of that, and drill down in tools as far as you can," he said. "You do the full compile, and right away as you start the app, you see if it runs. We found right away it didn't run. Any account or contact applet didn't have a user property for 8.0. It's some sort of de-dup component. We found out it was a user property under the applet."

It's also important to move slowly through the process.

"If you find yourself in a rush and you feel things are beyond your control, you should probably slow down," Austin said. "My best advice is to plan ahead and give yourself plenty of time. If you have time at the end, great -- you can do a little testing."

Other advice:

  • Track all your timings and your errors.
  • Analyzing your log files thoroughly is very important, as is preparing your database for growth.
  • Spend most of your time in development. Go very slowly and make sure all your milestones are met.
  • Co-locate the application and database servers. The scripts you run for UPGREG and UPGPHYS are very chatty.
  • Take advantage of the Oracle online community Ospace. A forum called install/update/manage is helpful.
  • One potential advantage users can look forward to is increased performance.

    "The app speed is definitely faster than 7.8," Austin said. "It could be the server. It could be the Siebel application. I've heard they may have made it faster in its new version."

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