Visualization, e-thinking key themes at CA World 99

What Computer Associates International Inc.’s CA World 99 conference lacked in substance, the company tried to make up for with style.

It was apparent from the very start of CA CEO Charles Wang’s opening-day keynote address that high-impact visuals were the name of the game at CA World 99, held in New Orleans last month. In an elaborately executed charade, a helmeted, jump-suited individual — alleged to be Wang himself — tore up the show floor on a motorcycle, popping wheelies as he went along, with the action broadcast to the audience waiting in the auditorium for Wang’s keynote to begin.

With Steppenwolf’s Born To Be Wild playing in the background, the motorcyclist made his entrance into the auditorium, popping one last wheelie before roaring up a ramp in front of the stage, jumping over CA president and COO Sanjay Kumar lying prone on the floor, and crashing through a CA sign hanging at the back of stage. When the smoke from an accompanying explosion cleared, Wang emerged in a slightly burned jump-suit, helmet in hand and hair dishevelled.

After leaving the stage for a quick clean-up, during which “his entrance” was recapped on the video screen, Wang returned to commence his keynote address.

The main thrust of his keynote was “thinking outside of the box” — a catchphrase he repeated again and again. He urged CA World attendees to think about IT in totally new and different ways, otherwise the “new business e-world will quickly pass you by,” Wang warned.

“In the new millennium, there are going to be two types of companies: the quick and the dead,” he added.

IT has an opportunity to play a dominant and starring role in the businesses of the future, Wang said, adding that two new ways of thinking will help to differentiate companies and make them successful.

The first new way of thinking involves visualization. According to Wang, the power of visuals helps people to recall things better, and therefore the use of 3D models can improve end users’ interaction with data. Demonstrating the 3D modelling technologies that CA acquired from its October 1998 acquisition of Viewpoint DataLabs International Inc., Wang proceeded to show a 60-second animation created from a 3D model of a Dodge minivan.

The minivan animation was followed by a two-minute composite video, underscored by Bad Religion’s 21st Century Digital Boy, of 3D digital content Viewpoint created in recent years for commercials, animations and movies, including ANTZ, Armageddon and Godzilla (the 1998 remake).

The second new way of thinking is what Wang calls e-thinking. To survive and prosper in the Internet age, businesses need new solutions and new ways of making decisions, Wang said. The ability to sift through the multitude of data that now exists and find the significant relationships between the data is of key importance, he said.

This is where CA’s neugent technology comes in, Wang said. Announced some eight months ago, neugents help to automate IT problem-solving by learning through experience and anticipating problems before they occur, he explained. He then went on to show a promotional video first shown at CA’s neugent launch in December 1998, followed by three as-yet-unreleased TV ads for neugents.

As with many of the CA products discussed by Wang, neugents are not out in full force yet. Originally released for Windows NT Server only, neugents are now available for OS/390 and various Unix server platforms. The sum total of the neugents’ current capability is to be able to predict when these specific server platforms are about to fail and to alert administrators to the impending failure.

Wang outlined some potential future applications that could take advantage of visualization or CA’s neugent technology. One example was an on-line furniture store. As a result of a joint venture between CA and MetaCreations, a Web-based 3D visualization company, furniture shoppers could visit an on-line retailer, see 3D representations of chairs, and pick fabrics and colours to suit their tastes, Wang explained.

Wang went on to talk about a new fleet management option for CA Unicenter — one of a few minor product enhancements announced at CA World 99 — that enables vehicular telemetry data and geographic position information to be captured and managed by Unicenter.

One Unicenter TNG user attending CA World 99 was particularly interested in the new fleet management option. Mike Stevenson is systems administrator in the computer services group of Peel Regional Police in Brampton, Ont., which currently has a fleet of 400 police cruisers.

“My dream is to integrate these cars into Unicenter TNG,” Stevenson said. He said he plans to continue to use his existing third-party fleet management software but he wants to integrate it wirelessly with Unicenter TNG.

He explained he could use Unicenter TNG to not only manage the laptops in each police cruiser, but also a new dispatch system about to be purchased by Peel Police. In addition, the police force wants to put sensors into each police car so that their positions can be traced from headquarters, and Stevenson said he believes this functionality could be integrated with Unicenter TNG as well.

Apart from discussing visualization and neugent technologies during his keynote speech, Wang also spoke about the need for a distributed infrastructure to tie everything together. In CA’s world, that infrastructure is Jasmine TND, which was announced in May and is currently in beta testing.

As explained by Sanjay Kumar, whose keynote address followed Wang’s, CA Unicenter TND has been preempted in its role as unifying infrastructure by Jasmine TND.

“Unicenter is simply an application,” Kumar said, adding that Jasmine TND will serve as the base infrastructure for all future CA product development. Details regarding Unicenter TND and Jasmine TND, both of which are in beta testing and not expected to be released for at least six months, were not forthcoming during either Wang’s or Kumar’s keynote.

That shortage of details was the main complaint of at least one industry analyst attending CA World 99. Martha Bennett, vice-president of Giga Information Group in Windsor, England, said she obtained little new information about CA’s future product strategies from the two executives’ keynote speeches.

“It was disappointing,” Bennett said. “It struck me as being a lot of advertising.”

In addition, she said she found Wang’s example of the on-line furniture store as a potential use of visualization as being short-sighted. While she said the concept of providing 3D models of furniture on-line was great, she pointed out the customer experience will be sorely lacking due to Internet bandwidth problems that continue to plague most users around the world. In addition, inconsistent colour-mapping among various vendors’ computer monitors will mean customers will be unable to judge the true colour of the furniture — a significant risk to any home-furnishing exercise, Bennett said.

However, Peel Police’s Stevenson said he wasn’t too concerned about the lack of details regarding the TND generations of Unicenter and Jasmine. He said he is in no rush to move to Unicenter TND or Jasmine TND anyway, because he feels that he hasn’t explored fully all of the functionality offered by the current-generation Unicenter TNG.

Since first implementing Unicenter TNG 18 months ago, Peel Police has added the asset management, software delivery, antivirus, remote control, ARCserve and advanced help desk options. Stevenson said Peel Police will add more options before upgrading to Unicenter TND.