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CA plans e-biz around intelligence

Is Computer Associates' eBusiness strategy confusing for customers?

Computer Associates (CA) wants a better seat on the e-commerce bandwagon. The company plans to announce a string of new software technologies and service programs beginning at its CA World user conference next month in New Orleans, which, when combined with its back-end software, will give companies a more comprehensive set of tools for building dotcom operations.

But it remains to be seen whether the new push will bring CA's eBusiness strategy into focus for customers, or simply confuse them. At the heart of CA's push is its assertion that eBusiness applications must integrate with existing back-end enterprise data and applications to be effective.

For CA, the three pillars of that philosophy are Jasmine ii, intelligent neural network agents called Neugents and services. Jasmine ii, CA's forthcoming Web application development and testing environment, is about to enter a second round of beta testing and is due to ship in several months. With Jasmine ii, CA has supplemented the Jasmine object database with a series of services that can be leveraged by new Web applications to integrate back-end data from existing ones.

Customers using Jasmine ii will be able to build applications quickly that integrate legacy data, capture the business process and bring predictive capabilities to the application, officials said during a briefing at the company's headquarters last week. But with as many as 11 different optional services, and promised integration with a laundry list of programming environments and Internet standards, Jasmine ii could turn customers away if CA doesn't articulate its strategy more clearly.

"When people move at Web speed, nobody has time to be confused," said Valerie O'Connell, an analyst at Aberdeen Group. Jasmine ii "is a lot to absorb", acknowledged Hugh Armstrong, chief investment officer at American Hotel Register. The hotel supplies distributor is just beginning to beta test Jasmine ii.

CA officials are confident that their message will ultimately be understood. "CA's philosophy has always been that the Internet is just another platform to manage and integrate into your business," said CA president, Sanjay Kumar. "Leverage, extend and integrate is another one of CA's key messages. So I really think that our e-commerce message is clear, and that we have a strong e-business play as a solution provider."

Other Jasmine ii beta testers found that integration with back-end systems did improve online business. London clothing mail order company, Wheeler Higgins, rebuilt its online Web store on Jasmine ii and saw online revenues double. James Stewart, the company's Internet manager, said the integration with its order sales and stock control data has improved the company's ability to make special offers to its frequent customers.

The intelligence that enabled such special offers comes out of the Jasmine ii Neugent option. In this case, Neugent agents learn normal patterns of activity and then make predictions of future changes based on subtle variations in those patterns. CA is developing a new Windows 2000 Neugent; a soon-to-ship Neugent for Solaris; network Neugents for routers; and a Linux Neugent, which could be announced as soon as CA World, officials said.

Further down the road, CA will leverage performance Neugents for Internet security and for wireless devices. Neugents for business optimisation are also on the roadmap.

In the coming months, CA services will add free tools for a Unicenter TNG Express Service Configurator, which customers can use to quickly determine parameters for an upgrade or full implementation of the TNG management framework, to its new e-services Web site, www.eservices.cai.com. CA officials also have set their sights on the lucrative ASP (application service provider) space and business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce. The company already hosts some of its InterBiz enterprise applications in Asia and does some hosting through its services division for larger customers. However, CA officials said a formal program for ASPs will be launched at CA World.

Beyond CA World, the eBusiness initiative will focus on creating B2B exchanges for hotels, hospitals and medical insurance, and other groups of companies that do $20m to $50m (£12m to £31m) in procurements, said Yogesh Gupta, senior vice president for product strategy. "The players are much smaller, so they don't have any leverage unless they come to an exchange," Gupta said.

In addition to its eBusiness push, CA will look to leverage its Unicenter management framework for companies that want to use SANs (storage area networks) to manage the flood of data created for and by Web sites. At CA World, the company will detail a new software framework for managing SANs composed of switches and storage devices from vendors such as Dell Computer, Brocade Communications Systems and EMC. The CA SAN management framework will provide discovery and identification of SAN devices and show their relationships to one another through 2D and 3D maps. It will also enable event management.

The SAN framework will be free, although exploiting Neugent technology that works with it will require a licence from CA, officials said.

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