Computer Associates relaunched its almost forgotten Masterpiece financial applications yesterday in a glitzy New York event, promising to take on SAP and Oracle in the corporate market.
Masterpiece, rewritten in Java and rechristened Masterpiece/Net, is now the responsibility of a dedicated business unit and has four key new features - full Web enablement, workflow, back office management via CA's Unicenter product and business communications.
Abram Azagury, the senior vice president who heads up the Enterprise Financial Management group, claims the product suite has leapfrogged its competitors in terms of ease of management and implementation, and will be marketed with new aggression by its own business unit.
He admitted that Masterpiece had lost market profile compared to CA's flagship system management product, Unicenter, and its Ingres database. "You must be wondering why we're doing anything with Masterpiece - the product died five years ago, didn't it?" he asked the audience at the Carnegie Hall launch.
The time was right for a new push behind Masterpiece, to take it outside its installed base of 2,000 companies, he said, because so many sites were finding client/server solutions "horrendous" to implement and support. The problem had been aggravated by the looming Year 2000 and EMU deadlines, so that the market was crying out for a Web-enabled product, he claimed. The reduced management and support complexity of a product running on a Web server and accessed by browsers was the main attraction of Masterpiece/Net to large users.
"It is very hard to support and distribute client software, and implementation times are a huge issue for Oracle and SAP," Azagury said. "We changed tack and the Net product went into beta last autumn. The Year 2000 issue is a great opportunity for us. If it takes three and a half years to implement SAP, it won't be ready in time. We take 4-6 months."
Tom Vitalio, controller at one beta site, Ferrari North America, backed this up, saying the car maker "dropped Masterpiece into our environment and had it running in a matter of hours".
Although Azagury was keen to stress that Masterpiece will achieve greater focus and identity in its own business unit, it is still very much under the Computer Associates wing. The enterprise management element of the reworked product relies on Unicenter and Dick Leitch, European marketing manager for the group, said president Charles Wang would "kill me if I worked with Tivoli instead of Unicenter." In theory, because Masterpiece is now written in Java and uses agents, it could be easily ported to other environments, but Leitch pointed to "the overriding principle that we use CA technology wherever possible".
Leitch said CA had no plans to extend Masterpiece into the business suite market like SAP but would stick to financial applications. "We back off companies that want full ERP systems," he admitted. "But sometimes we slot alongside ERP." For instance, Mitsubishi bought Baan's manufacturing and business software last year but has taken Masterpiece to run its financials.
Although CA can point to some successes where it has knocked out its key rivals - it paraded the CIO of defence contractor Command Sciences, which bought Masterpiece after failing to implement Oracle Financials - it has a hefty marketing job on its hands. Azagury was insistent that the name of the product should not be changed even though "many people advised us not to, because nobody knew it, or if they did it had the wrong connotations".
But this image problem is likely to prove a greater handicap than technical features - in terms of financial functionality, Masterpiece has some advantages, such as full support for dual base currencies (essential for EMU). And Ed Black, an analyst at the Aberdeen Group, claims the product is "strongly differentiable" largely because every function is Web-enabled. Most rivals, he claims, have written applet libraries covering only a subset of their products' functions.
Black sees the Web enablement as the key element of the rewrite but for Ferrari it is the Business Communications Facility that is most valuable. This allows reports to be incorporated in other applications, sent across the Net to colleagues and partners and annotated with written or spoken comments.
The Business Process Controls element (workflow) also brings Masterpiece more strongly into SAP territory, but analysts question whether CA can seriously challenge the more high profile players. "Masterpiece just isn't a name any more," said one. A new channel structure (see separate story), a product rewrite and a more focused sales and development team are all in place to change this, but the success of Azagury's new business unit depend on achieving this very quickly.
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