CA looks to getting itself back on track

An understated keynote speech and a commitment to move past a nasty executive housecleaning process characterized the opening days of Computer Associates’ annual user conference held in Las Vegas late last month.

The tenth CA World conference comes at a time when the Islandia, N.Y.-based enterprise software giant is still emerging from its darkest hour. An internal investigation revealed earlier this year that the company had prematurely booked some incomplete sales as revenue in both the 2000 and 2001 fiscal years. The revelation led to a sweeping out of much of the company’s executive level.

As well, CA has been operating under the cloud of an investigation from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice.

That process is ongoing, as are CA’s attempts to concentrate on its technology and not its turmoil.

“We’ve had some challenges recently,” said interim CEO Kenneth Cron during his opening keynote. Cron took over the CA reins after former CEO Sanjay Kumar resigned his position amid the financial scandal and took up the lesser post of chief software architect. “[We are] cooperating with the government’s investigation and we’re hopeful it will be resolved shortly.”

“With that all said,” Cron continued, “I want you to understand that CA is a company with huge strengths: financial strength, technology strength, strength in people and products. CA is strong and we’re ready to move ahead. I’m here to tell you that I’m committing CA to the highest standards of fiscal discipline and integrity.”

One customer attending the conference said the news of CA’s financial misstep and executive-level turnover “surprised everyone.” But Mike Stevenson, enterprise administrator, computer services for Peel Regional Police in Brampton, Ont., added that he is still confident in the company. “The quality of support (from CA) has improved in the last three years,” he said.

Stevenson’s staff of 26 IT pros serves a user base of 2,200. To him, CA’s strategy means less dependence on accumulating vast stores of technology to ensure the police force’s IT infrastructure remains healthy.

“In the past, you had to buy enough IT to have a buffer. Today, you don’t need that buffer. The vendors have become much more flexible,” he said, pointing to the fact that CA will lease IT assets such as servers in order to help his organization fill a temporary need without a large up-front investment having to be made.

Cron’s short speech, clocking in at roughly 40 minutes, well below the average for most CEO opening addresses, concentrated mainly on what CA is doing to help it win what Cron called the fourth phase in computing history. First was the mainframe, then came distributed computing, followed by the emergence of the Internet. Now, according to Cron, we’re in the age of management software, one that the CEO said CA will dominate.

CA’s four main product areas (storage, security, operation management and lifecycle management) fall under the firm’s Integrated Management Solutions umbrella. The overarching philosophy is to allow customers to use the products to track the use of assets throughout the enterprise, such as servers, laptops and other IT devices. By recognizing what assets are underutilized, misplaced or malfunctioning, organizations can reconfigure them to yield a better return on the investment that has been put into them.

“It’s all about discovering information about your network assets, such as storage underutilization,” said CA spokesperson Wai Wong during a seminar entitled “Asset Optimization.” It’s about “interpreting risk from the data,” he added.

To further its efforts to lead the management software space, CA made a num-ber of announcements at the show. A beta version of a product called Wireless Site Management (WSM) was announced and given a trial run at the keynote speech of chief technology officer Yogesh Gupta. It aims to secure wireless local area network users from having their signals intercepted by hackers and war-drivers. Users can have their wireless LAN area visualized by one WSM component and within that view simply draw a line around the area that they want the wireless signals to remain within. The demonstration on stage drew loud applause from the packed auditorium at the Venetian Las Vegas and Sands Expo and Convention Center.

CA announced a Web Services management tool, which allows IT managers to better visualize and control Web Services and overall service-oriented architecture environments. The firm also introduced enhancements to its Unicenter software management offering that aim to help convert technological data into everyday business terms.

“Think of management software as the CIO’s secret weapon,” said Cron during his keynote, “because management software allows you to find underutilized pockets of great technology within your enterprise, harness it and put it to use.”

Amidst all the technology announcements, however, CA delivered the message loud and clear that it intends to extend its relationship with third-party resellers in an effort to reach not only its core customers more effectively but also the small and medium enterprise space.

“We all know that not every customer wants to buy technology directly from the source, so last year CA beefed up our channel operations,” said Cron, adding that the effort will be CA’s “number one priority this year.”

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