Anxious times for CA users

You hear of it happening all the time in the world of professional sports: the long-time coach is promoted to general manager, and a new coach is brought in and supposedly given full reign of on-field or on-ice activity. By training camp, the new coach begins to feel uncomfortable with the ex-coach’s eagle eye staring down from the press box.

The new coach puts on a brave face to the media and hopes things will change, but unfortunately they don’t. By season’s end he has resigned or been sacked, citing “a difference in philosophy” with the GM. And then, about a year later, the truth comes out in a magazine article or tell-all book: the coach was never allowed to breathe because the ex-coach was still the one in control.

It’s a familiar set of circumstances played out in all areas of the business world, and it appears one need look no further than the boardrooms of Computer Associates Inc. for a recent example. Sanjay Kumar stepped down this month from his position as chief software architect, after having stepped down from his post as chief executive officer only a few weeks earlier.

No one can tell for sure just how uncomfortable his presence made others who were suddenly thrust up the corporate hierarchy and into positions higher than Kumar’s. But it’s safe to say that Kumar was Computer Associates for years. In a previous era, It was the Charles Wang/Sanjay Kumar show at CA, owing to the tight control they maintained over all aspects of the company’s efforts.

When Wang stepped down, Kumar had the spotlight to himself. Users and CA underlings were quite happy to crown him king of the company, given his well-respected abilities as a technological visionary. The CA that now embarks on a new era is very much the product of that vision. And it’s not a stretch to think that its architect’s presence in a newly concocted post would make others at times a tad uncomfortable.

Hence, Kumar’s departure. The above is but one possible reason for his exit. Whatever the truth of the matter was, the fact is that Kumar’s vision is no longer part of the CA equation. CA customers have reason to worry. Right now, the technology is well-respected; users seem content with what they have and what they will get in the next 18 months.

It’s the period after that with which they should be concerned. Strategic mistakes in the area of enterprise software take about that long to rear their ugly effects. And that is why the choosing of Kumar’s replacement is such a crucial decision. The new recruit must bring along a vision as bold and as sound as Kumar’s, or else CA’s products could suffer – not today, but tomorrow.

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