CA promises to mend its ways

Computer Associates is no longer an acquisition juggernaut, says chief executive Sanjay Kumar. Delegates at the Gartner Symposium aren't yet convinced

Computer Associates (CA) has changed its strategy of purchasing other companies, and is taking action to mend its poor image with customers, according to its chief executive, Sanjay Kumar. He still has a way to go, if the audience at GartnerGroup's Symposium/ITxpo in San Diego is anything to go by. A show of hands called for by Gartner research director Betsy Burton during an on-stage interview with Kumar gave CA a resounding 70 percent negative approval rating. "All large acquisitions result in customer service issues, in some shape or form," said Kumar, responding to the accusation that many of CA's public image problems are due to poor support for the large number of products in its range which it has gathered by acquisition. But this perception is outdated, he argued: "For two years now, we haven't acquired anything of any size." CA's mission is to make its customers trust it. "People buy things from people they know and trust," he said, explaining that the top 600 managers in CA are to be paid according to the improvement in customer service that CA offers. CA is moving away from the long-term software contracts that have led to criticism in the past, giving users more short-term options and more freedom, he said. "(Users) can roll it out to a hundred or a thousand workstations," he said. "They'll get better products because improvements are instantly available." At the same time, CA is re-tooling many of its products to be delivered as services, particularly infrastructure management products, especially in security. "That is an ideal product family to do it in," said Kumar. "But it is also a complicated area to have some components of security as a service. It's also easier for the customer to administer because they only have one copy of the product and it's a published service." The change will involve rethinking CA's technology, with a move to Web services, which will boom in about three years, said Kumar. CA remains resolutely neutral between the rival Web services models, Microsoft's .Net and J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition), because customers are undecided between the two. "If you go to large customers today and you ask them, 'Are you interested in Web services?' the answer is 'Yes.' If you ask them 'Are you doing something about it?' the answer is 'Yes.' If you ask them 'What technology will you be using to build them?' the answer is 'Both'." CA also hopes to build business with consultancies. "We (plan to partner) with people who are focused on best-of-breed solutions in their consulting like the Ernst & Young partnership in security," said Kumar. "We will have a couple more in the next few months." These partnerships are more important for CA than for others talking about consultancy work, such as HP. "The whole premise for the HP-Compaq merger is that they want to be the next IBM," Said Kumar. "IBM doesn't partner much. They do a whole bunch of things internally on their own." Q&A: CA turns products to services, says Kumar. Tech Update's Dan Farber and David Berlind contributed to this article

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