Computer Associates (CA) is attempting to reinvent itself to try to appeal to the small and medium enterprise (SME) marketplace, in an effort to boost its top line.
At the CA World user conference in New Orleans last week, the software giant staged its glitziest, most spin doctored event ever, to try to boost its profile, while announcing it had consolidated its marketing activities into its Islandia headquarters to clarify and strengthen its message worldwide.
The firm also launched a global channel sales organisation in an attempt to woo the SME sector, including a technical organisation to develop channel-only products, which will be rolled out over the next 12 months.
These standalone offerings are based on CA's Unicenter systems management framework, run under Windows NT only, and have a 250-user ceiling. They range from a single install version of the Jasmine object database to AimIT for asset and inventory management and ProtectIT for network security.
Reuven Battat, CA's senior vice president and general manager of global marketing, explained: "We recognised that if we want to send our message across, we don't want to be dull. We're entrenched in the Global 500, but there are only 5,000 of them and millions of small businesses. Two years ago, 95 per cent of our sales were direct. Now, they're 80 per cent and by 2001, we want that to be 50:50."
Steve Mann, a CA vice president, said the company's mission was to raise awareness in general business, the technical side of the industry and in the consumer market, and he had hired a raft of new marketing personnel to up its profile.
"We want to leverage our reputation for technical excellence and one strand of that is our branding image," he said. "CA has been perceived as very aggressive and using brute force. We do have a very aggressive culture for taking risks, but these traits have been seen as less than desirable and not the proper approach for a technical company to take. Customers have said you're not treating us as well as we need to be treated, so now we want to make customers our top priority."
This, he explained, was the rationale behind CA's failed hostile takeover of Computer Sciences (CSC). The firm was attempting to anticipate the needs of its customers by providing them with a "non-stop shopping solution", especially because users "spend $2 on services for each $1 they spend on products".
But, CA has not given up on its attempt to move into the services sector - it will now go after small and medium-sized Vars, consultants and systems integrators to provide it with the requisite skills and geographical presence.
It still has the $9 billion budget up its sleeve that CSC would have cost it, and hopes to complete its first purchase this fiscal quarter.
As a result, CA's aim - following the model of rivals IBM and Oracle - is to supply customers not only with the necessary products to manage their information and enterprise, but also to offer them implementation and consulting services at the same time.
On the product side, one of the main planks of this strategy is the so-called Harmony programme. This is an attempt by CA to make its diverse product line more coherent and win control of the all-important middle tier of a customer organisation's software infrastructure.
Yogesh Gupta, CA's senior vice president of product strategy, explained: "We're creating a common software infrastructure to manage the computing environment or to manage information a la Harmony. There are two faces to a common infrastructure - one is managing enterprise systems with Unicenter and the other is based around databases and development with Harmony. Enterprise management is a critical piece - without it, it's like saying you've got a foundation, but no bricks."
The Harmony strategy is based around CA's Jasmine object database, which is being expanded to include an object request broker, naming services, messaging and push technology that was originally developed for inclusion in Unicenter. But, it will also include interfaces to both Corba and Microsoft's Dcom object model, so users can choose whichever flavour they like to remotely execute and access their object based software.
Harmony is intended as a means of integrating and accessing CA's databases, third party databases such as Oracle and other information feeds. As a result, the Jasmine based software will sit as an insulating middle layer between an organisation's underlying systems hardware and its front end devices, ranging from PCs and NCs to cash registers, enabling users to switch out redundant systems with minimum disruption when necessary.
Initial products that will be Harmony-enabled over the next 12 months include CA's Ingres relational database, its IDMS and Datacom mainframe databases and the Opal emulation software for adding a graphical front end to character based packages.
This so-called Meta4 user interface has been introduced across the Harmony product line to unify it and make it easier to run multimedia and Internet based packages on old technology, thus prolonging their lifespans.
Technology will be cross-fertilised from both camps, with Unicenter's auto discovery mechanism - which detects which computers and non-IT systems such as automatic teller machines are on the network - to be included in the Harmony product set. Also, Jasmine will be supported in the next version of Unicenter - the Next Dimension (TND).
This will provide Unicenter with a range of object services such as naming and security, an object store and an object delivery mechanism, but will also include the neural network technology acquired along with AIWare last November for predictive analysis, enabling users to react to potential systems problems before they occur.
TND is expected to ship at the end of next year, although CA's official line is some time in 1999.
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