Returning Novell exec promises big changes

The newest executive hired to right Novell Inc.’s listing ship intends to save foundering products by lashing them into suites, scuttling proprietary development tools, and emphasizing the company’s directory-based offerings in revamped marketing aimed at upper-level corporate managers.

Chris Stone, who left Novell two years ago as senior vice president of strategy, this week returned as vice chairman – second in command to chairman and CEO Jack Messman. He will assume the responsibilities of chief operating officer Stewart Nelson, who left the company this week after eight years. Stone will oversee engineering, marketing, product management, alliances and consulting groups.

Novell customers, while anxious to embrace Stone’s optimistic vision, also say they have heard this tune repeatedly over the years from a string of company executives who failed to restore this one-time network giant to its place of industry prominence.

“Stone may be able to really shake things up now that he’s back,” says Peter Strifas, a directory engineer at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York. “I’d give him six months to show me, only because of what he [did] in the past with the directory.” Stone was the author of Novell’s directory-centric strategy.

Chip DiComo, manager of global information systems for transportation firm Hellman Worldwide Logistics, believes that Stone and Messman will mesh well.

“Novell needed Messman’s business savvy, but [the company] became instantly flat without technology leadership,” says DiComo. “I met Chris Stone as he exited Novell the first time and also [saw] Chris motivate the troops at a low time. He is exactly what Novell needs to balance Messman and revitalize partners, employees and customers.”

Stone says that while the company’s focus is the same as it was when he left two years ago – Internet services using the directory as the platform – there are three challenges he needs to address.

“First, creating a culture [within Novell] that wants to win and will win,” he says. “Second, building products that people want to buy. And third, the marriage of the company – consulting, Cambridge Technology Partners, sales and the product organization.”

Stone says that one of Novell’s problems is that it has too many products that no one knows what to do with. He will combine them into suites that focus on user identity management, access and security and provisioning. Provisioning is the act of automatically acquiring computers, telephones and network access for new employees of companies.

“Novell’s got all the parts,” Stone contends. “Does the sum of the parts equal a whole. Yes – it’s a matter of putting the parts together and coming up with a solution that someone wants to buy.”

As to the lethargy Novell has shown rolling out products such as caching, or supporting technologies such as the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) and the Universal Description, Discovery and Information (UDDI) protocol, Stone says he intends to spur development both internally and with external developers.

“People don’t write to NetWare Loadable Modules [NLM] or to proprietary interfaces and protocols,” Stone says. “That will change [with] J2EE, SOAP, DirXML [and] more connectors, tools for developers to write to the directory that are standards-based – tools that developers use, not ones that Novell creates.”

Mt. Sinai’s Strifas, who supervises in-house developers, approves of Stone’s plan.

“The focus should be on accessing services or APIs, not NLMs,” says Strifas, whose developers have written a Java-based management utility. “All we needed to do was write a Web front-end to it and pass calls to Java APIs that talk to eDirectory natively. I don’t care about rewriting Novell Directory Services; I just want to know how to write to it. My developers are screaming for [tools] now.”

Stone also says customers can expect to see additional changes in the company’s management and structure beginning as soon as this week.

“I plan to revamp both product and corporate marketing and product management, focusing them around the suites of products and putting together a campaign that is aimed at an executive-level audience,” Stone says.

Novell in Provo, Utah, is at