CA opens heart to users

Customer service is going to be the top priority for Computer Associates, according to president Sanjay Kumar. He added that customers have always been a priority, it’s just that now they will be first.

The company will also focus on technology and innovation – concentrating on Web services and wireless.

CA will not be changing its interactions with customers in the field, but instead looking at how the company works with them internally, Kumar said in a keynote address at last month’s CA World 2002 in Orlando, Fla.

This will continue CA’s initiative, started last year, to categorize all of its products and services into six brands. Kumar announced at the conference that these brands will now be represented by business units, which will include marketing, development and separate customer support for each.

Warren Shiau, a research analyst at Toronto-based IDC Canada, said CA has had a bad reputation for their customer service in the past, so it is no surprise that they would be trying to change that.

“CA was always saying, ‘We realize we need to change and we’re trying.'”

Shiau said, in the mainframe business, customers have not had a lot of choice when it comes to vendors. “It’s sort of like an oligopoly.”

He added that some companies can afford not to be as responsive. “(But) it doesn’t mean that it’s right and that it won’t hamper customer relations.”

He said CA made its business through acquisition, and they were, at times, ruthless about it. But, he noted, with the passing of the reins to Sanjay Kumar, there was a feeling that CA had softened a bit.

Shiau said the true test will be over the next six to 12 months – when customers will either see a change, or not.

Michael Dotch, principal analyst and editorial director for Westport, Conn.-based Robert Frances Group, said an intensified focus on customers is nothing new – for CA or any other leading enterprise vendors.

“Our enterprise IT executive clients have reported steady improvements in doing business with CA for the past 12 to 18 months,” he said from his San Francisco office.

In other customer-friendly news, Kumar announced a customer service portal called Customer Connect, which will give access to information collected over the last two years. Users can review software and hardware contracts and view other CA client sites through Account Connect, or download products and help at Support Connect.

He said that in order to improve business continuity, CA would focus on bringing infrastructure and technology together. He added that it hopes to rise above standards and build on an open architecture for .NET and J2EE users alike.

Kumar earlier told press he did not want to get into a public debate about recent inquiries which are plaguing CA and many other industry vendors.

However, in an earlier interview, Kumar said he is confident in the company’s accounting practices.

“We have people who are going to provide whatever information any agency wants during this. We’re confident that our accounting is proper,” he said.

He said the biggest issue is trying to operate under this type of cloud, and the ghost of Enron. “It’s a time where it’s kind of accuse first, justify later; shoot first and maybe even aim later.”

He stressed that the company made more than US$1 billion in operating cash over the last five years – and the company is not running out of money.

“Now, either we’ve got a printing press downstairs cranking out green bills, or somebody is actually paying the bills,” Kumar said. “We don’t have off balance sheet partnerships.”

He noted that it’s a very complex environment, which is very frustrating for business.

“You’re living in a world where every word business executives utter can be held against them in the future,” he said.

He also responded to the recent sale of much of the InterBiz applications. He said the InterBiz brand was a bit separate from the six core brands.

“Last year, I said one of two things had to happen with InterBiz – either we had to acquire more critical mass, to give InterBiz critical mass, or we had to combine it with something else to give it critical mass, because it just wasn’t big enough on its own,” he said.

“And people should have clearly expected that we would have done one of those two things in that space.”

Kumar also wanted to rid CA of its “big acquisitor” title. He noted that it has been, “two years since (CA has made) an acquisition of any meaningful size.” He added the focus was on partnering and reinforced these opinions during his keynote and press conferences.

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