The World Wide Web offers business little choice: Get on the e-commerce train or watch your business be forever left behind. Fail to weave your Web applications seamlessly into your infrastructure and watch your business fail. So warned Charles B. Wang, president and CEO of Computer Associates International Inc. in Islandia, N.Y. During CA's annual user conference this week, Wang spoke with Computerworld senior writer Sami Lais.
Q: What is CA's electronic-commerce focus?
A: There are two aspects of electronic commerce. One is CA's own initiative in electronic commerce. Today, if you go to our home page, you'll find you can buy products, get support, register for our conference, find out the status of your accounts receivable, download products to try -- you can, for example, get a personal edition of Antivirus for free -- and there are lots things that we use in our relationship with our customers as well as internally. Our whole management system is built around using our intranet -- our salesmen connect and put their projections in, for example.
The second is CA's support for electronic commerce: security products, including firewall, antivirus, encryption; and all the things we traditionally do, which is network, systems and information management.
As you look in the application area, Jasmine, our object database, is geared toward the whole Internet world -- develop the application and [make it browser based so] you can deploy it on the Internet and deploy it on client/server in only one step.
Our main philosophical differentiator is we look at e-commerce as an extension of the overall IT infrastructure. You cannot look at it as an island. And this is so fundamental, because it isn't different from everything else we do. You have the same issues; you have security, back-up -- and it better be seamlessly integrated with the rest of your IT infrastructure.
Q: What should businesses be looking for when they look at their Web applications?
A; Those who start from scratch do have a benefit because they don't have to tie back. But the largest book stores in the world, the largest investment banking firms -- they should have been the first, because all this whole e-world is another extension of how you use another vehicle to communicate. Another vehicle for distribution, another channel. And they missed it.
From the very beginning of all of this we have been saying, "Look, it's got to be a seamless integrated extension of your present IT infrastructure because you have all the same issues. Yes, you have some things that are additional, like a firewall and content inspection and e-mail, but they still better be tied back [to the rest of your infrastructure], because when you back up, you'd better be backing up everything -- your Web server, your schedule, everything." And that's what we do. That's why I think we have the right infrastructure for e-commerce: It integrates the whole IT infrastructure.
Q: One of CA's white papers suggests a new position is needed for Web sites -- that of executive producer -- to focus on getting people through your e-lobby. How do you do that?
A: Presupposing that you have the right infrastructure, then I think there are two key differentiators in the e-commerce world, and we provide them. Number one is visualization. Use of, for example, 3-D animation as the interface for customers to the technology. We're getting drowned [when we go to Web sites]. We go in and see these large menus -- it's too much. Number two is intelligence, specifically neural network technology, Neugents. Because it is so important that we start to look at prediction, optimization of the experience. When you come into the e-lobby, it would be nice for it to know what you need. So it takes the history of your patterns, so I can customize, in real time, an experience for you that isn't the same as the next person's and that may not even be the same for you the next time you visit. [Neugents] sift or mine that information to point it to what your requirements are.
So you need two things: visualization and the business-intelligent neural network technology. But none of it could happen if you don't have that infrastructure there for it to sit on, because where else does all this information get stored and how do you mine this data and so on.
Q: Where is this neural network technology going?
A: It's just getting started. We think we're so brilliant because we've taken this neural network and we've applied it to just prediction of when NT servers, Unix servers and OS/390s will go down. Think about that. Everybody's so excited. Everybody in IT is saying, "Wow, if only I could know when it will go down." But this is such a little piece of what we can do with this technology.
Q: Are you referring to uses like the charitable work you've been involved with like the Smile Train or Missing Children? And the Mercedes race car?
A: That's not charitable work -- the McClaren [race car].
Q: No, but isn't it a use of the technology that's different from what you think of as a business application?
A: Absolutely. We're taking a lot of the technology -- how we're using Unicenter to collect data from this McClaren race car -- and we're putting together a project called Unifleet to manage fleets of vehicles. So you know where the vehicle is at any time, how much gas it has, how many miles it has been driven, what the air pressure in the tires is, the maintenance logs. And you'll see it in rental cars. The day will come when you will return a rental car and you'll just go in, drop off the key, and you're gone. It'll know if you put gas in it, it'll know how many miles you've gone, it'll know what needs maintenance. When you bring it back, there won't be somebody to check off a little list. Agencies today think it's so fast because they have a little reader to punch in the numbers. There'll be no one needed to do that. Because there'll be a device that will already [have] all that data.
And if somebody steals the rental car, from a central location, when that car comes to 0 mph, they can just disable it. It stops. The thief is at the red light and he can't do anything.
With this application, we're barely at the beginning. It's fantastic.
Q: Do you have any similar kinds of projects in the works now?
A: We're working with a company called Office Depot, which is stationery, office supplies. What we're doing there is putting Neugents on the client's network, and what it does is keep track of usage of toners, cartridges and supplies on the printers. It will tell Office Depot that this company in this location is going to need the following supplies within the week and Office Depot can ship it ahead of time. Imagine what it does for them from a competitive point of view.
And not only that, you get the right cartridge, because, according to Office Depot's statistics, half the time the people who order the cartridge order the wrong one. But don't forget, part of that infrastructure is Unicenter and because of a piece called asset management, Office Depot knows exactly what kind of toners and cartridges the ink-jet or whatever needs.
Q: What do users of Jasmine TND and Unicenter TND, which are scheduled for release this year, have to do -- how do they have to change the way they think to take advantage of the new features?
A: The developers or those who are constructing the applications have to recognize that the world is changing, that 3-D is going to be a way of life. Just because you put icons on the desktop doesn't make it easy to use. You have to give users an experience that's very much more real. You've got to take them, if they're going shopping, into a mall, a unique mall that's tailored to what they would like to see, what they've been looking at. If I always buy DVDs, for example, take me to DVDs, don't make me go through 10 to 20 menus, clicking, clicking, clicking. Take me to that area because chances are, 9 out of 10 times, I'm probably going there anyway. Give me a little piece that says if I want to go somewhere else I can go somewhere else, but start me there. This is the kind of thing that people say, "Oh, you can do that by bookmarking that page," and yeah, sure, but people change the URLs so much -- any developer can tell you that. So make it unique for me. So developers have to recognize that.
The second thing is what do you do with all this data that you've got? This is where the Platinum acquisition and all those data mining tools come in. But there was no neural network to those tools. They had the traditional AI stuff like expert systems and those basically statistically policy-driven AI tools, not the pattern recognition. [With both tool sets] together now, it'll be tremendous.
When you program it to create the end-user experience, you must make sure that what you develop takes advantage of these two capabilities to make the experience unique for each user. And don't waste your time writing infrastructures. That's crazy. You'll find the bigger the company, the bigger the staff to write infrastructure to glue it all together. And it doesn't work. It's too late.
Q: Whatever the infrastructure, however, the right hardware can make it -- the Internet is so famously unreliable -- work better. Do you have any partnerships on projects with hardware vendors?
A: We work with everyone. We're working with PageNet and 3Com using the PalmPilot, but I wouldn't call it a partnership in the sense of building a product. It's more the kind of work we do with everyone.
But bandwidth is not going to be an issue. Assume infinite bandwidth, assume infinite computing power. This new molecular computer, the quantum computer -- it's coming. I just hope it's in my lifetime, because it's so neat. But it's coming. Today, you have gigahertz processors being tested in laboratories at Intel. Thousand gigahertz -- it'll come, it's just a matter of time.
Q: Use of repositories has been important in Microsoft's strategy. How has the acquisition of Platinum affected the working relationship there?
A: We're very close to Microsoft. Windows 2000 is going to ship with Unicenter TNG framework as an integral part of the system, not another application they're going to bundle. The work that Platinum was doing with Microsoft on the repository will continue and be expanded, because don't forget, CA does not take sides. We work with everybody.
The most important thing for CA to remember is we must reflect what our clients are using, not where we think they should go. Because we don't offer any platform. We're that middleware piece that cuts across all of those platforms.
Because we don't own any of those platforms, we're the only ones that can integrate all of the parts, so that you can have single sign-on from the desktop all the way up. So you don't put your password on all those yellow Post-Its all over your machine. This is nuts; it's not security. And the real clever ones put it under their mouse pads. Or you flip the keyboard and find it there too. Or use test. Or 1111. The safe in my hotel room upstairs was locked. Know what I did? I went 1111, and it opened up -- classic.