CA WORLD - CustomerConnect self-service plug-ins unveiled

Banging the drum once more this week about its mission to narrow the comfort level gap between the giant software maker and its customer base, Computer Associates International Inc. (CA) on Tuesday announced CustomerConnect, a new set of Web-based self-service features designed to access and control personal accounting and finance information.

CustomerConnect, a free Web services application and set of tools mirrored from CA's own internal ServiceCode Web services application, allows customers to initiate changes to contacts and billing information, download product upgrades and releases, and retrieve technical support information from a Web-based portal, said Gary Quinn, executive vice-president of Islandia, N.Y.-based CA.

Quinn said the self-service application supports a host of global languages. CustomerConnect includes AccountConnect, enabling CA product license and invoice review, as well as up-to-date corporate information management. Another aspect of CustomerConnect, called SupportConnect, lets customers download product license keys and new virus signatures and carry out review and update of support issues, he added.

Noting the heavy dose of criticism thrust at CA over the last few years in terms of customer dissatisfaction, Quinn admitted that CA has been guilty of not properly handling the aftermath of its acquisition-frenzy time period.

"The acquisitions I think have caused customers to not feel happy. We acquired companies and didn't do anything with them," Quinn said. "We've done a terrible job in telling people what we did with the software. In hindsight, we should've merged more products."

Still, Quinn points out CA initiatives driven toward improving customer standing. They include a subscription-based pricing model, its hands-on CRO (client relationship organization), complete product line consolidation and rebranding late in 2001, and CA's sales makeover designed to freeze a portion of compensation from sales staff until customers come back with high marks for the product.

Valerie O'Connell, managing director of enterprise systems management for Boston-based Aberdeen Group Inc., said CA has put the money and muscle behind remaking its tarnished image.

"CA has done the thing most companies hate to do which is organizational change at a deep and substantive level. They've done the work, and this year they have the results from what they've been doing," O'Connell said.

Flexible licensing on a month-to-month timeframe factored to become a central reason for new CA customer Tom Powers, CIO of Muncie, Ind.-based Cardinal Health Systems, to look into and purchase CA's eTrust Single Sign On over other security vendor products to secure and manage access control to confidential medical records.

Powers said that CA's tattered support reputation in some circles was well understood before his company agreed to sign on as a customer of the software behemoth.

"I would have to have been deaf not to hear [criticism], and this was coming from their user community," Powers said. "They did have to address it. To their credit, they've said they've begun to actively work to dispel that perception, and I think in our case as a new customer, it came across."

Powers said CA's new business model option allowed his organization to conduct a prototype deployment and proof-of-concept without spending a large investment upfront.

"It was a try before you buy. We did not have to license the product in a rigorous way and make a long-term commitment, and not that many vendors are as flexible as that," Powers said.

Powers said eTrust SSO is being used in conjunction with a few other applications, including biometric authentication and the use of active badge readers. He said he has leased the monthly subscription model for six months and then plans to move onto a one-year contract thereafter.

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