CA: Remove complexity, make customers happy

LAS VEGAS – The only way for a business to thrive and be competitive is to stay a few steps ahead of its customers.

This was one of the messages Sanjay Kumar, chairman and CEO of Computer Associates International Inc., shared with his audience during his opening keynote on Sunday at this year’s CA World conference.

Delivering innovation and working hard to anticipate customer needs is one of Islandia, N.Y.-based CA’s goals over the next few years, Kumar said, adding that this strategy doesn’t necessarily mean CA has to be able to predict details in the future. It does, however, have to “get the macro picture right.”

Part of that broad picture is recognizing and addressing the issue of complexity for customers, he said. Today, said Kumar, there are too many products from too many vendors. The introduction of more full product suites might help smooth things out, but innovation won’t erase the fact that there is a lot of legacy technology out there and no real move to phase it out.

“In our industry, nothing ever dies,” Kumar said, “and there is not a good track record for helping eliminate old products.”

At the same time, the industry is facing consolidation and customers are demanding more integration. “Customers want to go down from [using the technology of] 50 to 60 vendors to 30 to 40 vendors.” While Kumar said that item on customers’ wish lists might seem like a tall order at this time, vendor consolidation is well on its way.

At a separate interview with Canadian press, Kumar told some of the last few weeks’ worth of activity in the enterprise software space – PeopleSoft buying J.D. Edwards, and Oracle wanting to do the same to PeopleSoft – only indicates the inevitability of consolidation in the market.

He pointed to the airline industry, in which there are very large, established carriers and smaller, innovative ones, but no midsized names. “Midsized companies will have to be consolidated,” he said in his keynote. He added that this activity is just the “natural order of things,” even when it comes to companies like EMC, a storage company which last week announced its acquisition of Legato, an enterprise software player.

Consolidation by and large is good for customers, as are the changes that come out of it, Kumar insisted. The good news is that customers might be able to “manage one portfolio with fewer technology pieces to manage them” – thereby reducing complexity.

However, a few caveats must be considered, he cautioned. Although the IT industry is by nature a proponent of change, he added, “change also scares the hell out of customers,” who might be nervous about the whole notion of consolidation because of longer implementation times and cycles.

Kumar suggested that consolidation might be the catalyst for a customer move away from software customization, and a “demand [for] more from the vendor out of the box.”

This could also work against the best interests of the IT industry, he warned. A customer that has not invested as much into customization might not be as entrenched in a particular vendor’s technology, and may end up switching vendors anyway.

Another area Kumar highlighted was CA’s recent on-demand computing initiatives. Earlier this month, CA unveiled four Unicenter network management solutions that enable customers to manage enterprise network environments from the wireless LAN (WLAN) to the data centre, and deliver IT as a service. According to the firm, the solutions leverage extensions to CA Common Services that provide a service oriented architecture and self-management capabilities.

In the earlier interview, Kumar acknowledged that at this point, vendors are still giving different definitions for on-demand computing. But in listening to vendor presentations, “when you get to the benefits page, we’re all talking about the same thing.”

On-demand computing is still in its early days, and industry watchers may “have their antennae up, looking for differences” in vendor approaches, Kumar said in the interview. But he added that the definition discrepancy situation is similar to what happened in the early days of client-server computing – there were also many definitions, but in the end it all came together.

Kumar emphasized the necessity of a multi-vendor environment for on-demand computing to work, adding that the concept is not about outsourcing, or about buying into a single vendor’s strategy or tying oneself to one vendor’s hardware. “Better management of technology resources and processes is really the key to on-demand,” he said.

CA World continues through Thursday.