CA's Swainson outlines customer advocate cuts

Computer Associates International recently began eliminating about 300 customer advocate positions worldwide to transfer accountability for customer problems to its sales representatives, CEO John Swainson said Tuesday in Las Vegas at CA World. The impact of the move appears contradictory to the company's renewed focus on its customers, some CA users said. But Swainson defended the move during a news conference and again later in a short interview.

Swainson also said he was wrong when he said in an interview nearly a year ago that CA has too many products, which several executives have said total more than 1,200. After nearly a year heading up the US$3 billion company, Swainson said it makes sense to concentrate on four major management product areas: storage, security, network and systems management, and a category CA calls Business Service Optimization.

The customer advocate positions that were cut affected about 200 people in the U.S. and another 100 internationally, Swainson said. Nearly all the staffers working in those jobs were reassigned, he said.

The purpose of the move was to "make the sales reps more accountable," Swainson said. Customer advocates fulfilled a role he described as something between a sales person and a technical person, but their functions led them to be the main point of contact for many customers, a role Swainson wants sales personnel to fulfill.

Four customers who attended CA World were aware of the change, and two expressed concern that their calls about software problems and related matters would not be answered in person or by anyone they know. The other customers said that support from CA remains good and that the customer advocate changes were made just recently.

"Yes, I'm worried about losing the customer advocate, since we saw him all the time," said a woman who works in IT for a branch of the U.S. armed forces and who asked that her name not be used. "Yes, I'm worried about having to deal with a guy on the phone."

Jarrid Magalich, a senior enterprise architect at Sheetz, said the loss of his customer advocate "is a black mark in my book." He said the advocate was in his offices "every other week ... knew all the projects and acted like the commission-less sales rep. ... It was a great working relationship."

Magalich also said he was told the customer advocate would be replaced by CA phone support. " I wouldn't take advantage of that," he said.

Several customers expressed concern about how CA will treat its massive portfolio of products in coming years, since a focus on key areas will likely lead to consolidation and the elimination of some products. Three IT workers at a Midwest insurance company were visiting the show to see what CA plans for its mainframe job-scheduling software products. One of them described CA as a "trend-setter" in product innovation, but said he is still concerned about the life of the company's products.

Another attendee who also asked not to be named said user-group leaders had pushed company executives for details about the road map for many products, especially mainframe products that are not within the four new areas the company is focusing on. But CA executives "skated around" those concerns, he said, adding that he hopes CA has more definitive answers next year.

Swainson and other CA executives said some of the company's product road maps are available online, while others will be spelled out in more detail in coming months. Mark Barrenechea, chief software architect at CA, said the company's four areas of concentration include 15 major product groups.

In April, CA created a Products Group to resolve customers needs related to hundreds of mostly older software products. The majority of those products were built for legacy mainframe applications and are usually considered critical to the customers that need them, Barrenechea said. CA will continue to support those products and provide updates as needed, Barrenechea said. He also said some of the Products Group software will eventually die, citing as an example a mainframe e-mail program.

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