CA Technologies chief: 'We've got heavy and slow, it's time to get back in the gym'

Q&A: How CA Technologies' new chief executive Mike Gregoire wants to push the mainframe management giant into a new world of agile development and software as a service.
Written by Steve Ranger, Global News Director on

CA Technologies is a 37-year software industry veteran best known for its mainframe management software, but now keen to hitch a ride on the software as a service and cloud bandwagon along with building out its smartphone and mobile device management offerings.

ZDNet met up with the company's new chief executive Mike Gregoire at the company's customer conference in Las Vegas. Gregoire joined CA in January, having previously been CEO of cloud-based talent management software company Taleo which was sold to Oracle in early 2012 for nearly $2bn.

You've been chief executive for four months now – what do you see are the strengths and weakness of the company?
There's a lot of strengths and a few areas, for sure, where we could improve. In the area of strengths we have absolutely fantastic customer relationships: I've talked to literally hundreds of customers over the last four months and I came into the job thinking that there would be a little more tension between the company and its customers and what I've found is that there is zero tension.

They want CA to win, they trust CA to run all of their applications and security and their infrastructure on the mainframe and distributed and what they are asking for is 'do the same thing for us as we migrate to the cloud' and so that was a big positive insight that I got.

The areas to improve are, our company's been in business for 37 years and we carry a little extra weight I think we need to go on a little bit of a diet and get in the gym and work out a bit.

Mike Gregoire_CA Technologies
Mike Gregoire, CA's new CEO

I think we're a little heavy and a little slow sometimes and, if you want to be the best software engineering company, you've got to be lean and active and quick and agile. I'd like to see us move more towards that kind of environment.

Right off the bat, I already see the changes happening in the company — we're thinking a little bit quicker, acting with a little more velocity, and you will see that show up in the products and our go to market in a very short period of time.

How will you achieve that?
It's the way you work — we've adopted the agile methodology through the company in how we build the products. We're not having these long, drawn-out waterfall requirements and definition sessions; we're doing iterative development, getting really engaged with customers — understanding their requirements and turning that into code really quickly.

It's our ability to just take a look at how we do things, and objectively look at 'are we doing this because it's the way we've always done it?' or, with the advent of the cloud and some of the new thinking in the company, is there a better way of doing things where we could make things much easier and faster?

What about divesting technologies?
That has not been a core strength of ours — we're like clutterbugs, we keep everything forever and I don't believe we've had as vigorous and robust a view of lifecycle management for applications.

I really want to go tackle that particular problem of old releases. Products that are not core to us, we need to put them in the hands of people that they're core for them. Applications that are no longer driving the amount of business value that they should, we need to work to get customers onto releases that the innovation is happening on, and that's a very difficult thing to do.

We will never get there one hundred percent, but just the spirit of having the dialogue with the customer and showing you have a genuine interest in making sure they are getting the maximum amount of business value, I think is the kind of partner we want to be.

What kind of technologies do you see that happening with?
Just workforce scheduling, for example — we have 10 different products that do virtually the same thing and multiple versions of each. That is a place where there is clearly an opportunity to do something.

If you take a look at our distributed products, some of them have been around for a number of years and we have some customers running different versions in different parts of their company, so there's an opportunity for us to streamline and help them get more value by being on newer releases.

We'd have to go customer by customer and product line by product line and start to have these discussions.

What about organic innovation?
It's the concept of, we're building products from scratch rather than only using acquisitions as way of bringing new products into our portfolio. So we've launched three net new products in the last quarter — all of them have been organic and we've also augmented that with Nolio and Layer 7. We're going to do a combination of both but even in buying Nolio and Layer 7 we have product roadmap for what we are going to do to make those products stronger.

Do you see resistance from customers who are happy running old versions of your products?
This is the difference between a default decision and a conscious decision. I'm not convinced we've given them the option or presented them with the opportunity.

That's all I'm asking for, let's have a dialogue about this. If you are OK running an older piece of software, it's getting it done for you and maintenance costs are relatively low, and that's what you want to do, we aren't going to get in the way of you doing that.

On the other hand, 25 percent of all application spending is being done in software as a service.

Every customer we have is pivoting towards the cloud, so if you are a CIO, don't you want to start thinking about having one way of managing your environment instead of having multiple discrete systems?

What about big data?
There's two areas of big data for us: first, the managing of big data and that's something that's right in our core, being able to manage the servers and the data repositories and securing the data that gets stored in those repositories and you're going to see different technologies layered on top of that like Hadoop, Mongo DB NoSQL those kind of database engines.

Being able to monitor the applications and environments and secure that data is a service that we know how to do, and we've been doing those types of things for years.

The second part is our internal world, where we collect and pass through gigabytes of data a day, storing that data and having application scientists look for trends and new product features and new ways of monetising the data we have, is an early innovation project for us... I've got to believe that with all the data we are collecting there must be some value that we can give to our customers.

How much of the CA portfolio can you move to Saas delivery?
The mainframe stuff is going to be kind of hard to move but, over time, most of the distributed, as it evolves, will look more Saas-like. Just because you built something in a Saas architecture it doesn't mean you won't deploy it behind the customer's firewall.

There are some instances of our applications and some customer preferences where they would not want to be in a private cloud or in a public cloud. Some of our applications are so network-intensive that it would be probably be reckless to try and put that into a public or private cloud.

So, different horses for different courses, but in general I could argue pretty elegantly it's a better way of engineering and bringing innovations to your customers by using agile on a Saas platform.

What do see that doing to your revenue?
As long as you're thoughtful in how you do it, it makes you a better company. Saas companies have to be a lot more cautious with respect to how they spend, because they are recognising revenue on a daily basis rather than getting these big lump sums of cash, so I think it drives better engineering it makes you a better steward of your capital and makes you more thoughtful about product roadmaps.

Are discussions about Saas with customers driven by cost?
The quality of the solution you get out of a Saas environment is just better than a perpetual licence because the responsibility and the pressure to make a good release is so high, because when I put that new release out, I'm giving it to everyone at the same time.

In the perpetual world I can cut you a CD and then cut you a CD and put two or three fixes in for you and then you get into the world of lifecycle management and how poorly that is managed — 70 per cent of production errors happen because of bad release management.

But isn't Saas always considered to be cheap?
When I was at Taleo, we were never considered to be cheap, just better, so it's about value. It's just a different way of buying: instead of buying upfront, you're buying over time, and it gives you more flexibility as a purchaser because that model gives you the opportunity to hit the capital budget or you can hit an operational budget — so it's just a better way of procuring software.

Where do you see CA Technologies in a year's time?
We are on a big steep innovation curve. I think we're at the right place at the right time: we've got the money, we've got the talent, there's definitely a need and we have the intellectual property. Taking our great engineers and getting them to focus on some of these cloud and some of these disruptive trends with our capital base and the customer relationships we have I think we can be one of the most important names in managing the cloud.

ZDNet attended CA World as a guest of CA Technologies.

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