CA cleans up product line jumble

Computer Associates International Inc.'s customers say the firm is making strides to improve its services and articulate its product messages more clearly but still has a long way to go.

At this week's CA World conference here, executives from the Islandia, N.Y.-based firm outlined a new product lineup structure, as well as Unicenter 3.0, the latest version of its flagship management software, and new storage and security products.

Sanjay Kumar, president and CEO of CA, explained that CA's six new core areas, first outlined last month, will fall within one of four product lines. Enterprise management will come under the Unicenter line, storage will be part of the newly christened BrightStor brand, security will fall into the eTrust lineup, and portal, knowledge management, visualization and other technologies will be part of the Jasmine ii middleware offering.

Grasping the CA product lineup has long been a challenge and a frustration for many users and analysts. Part of the problem has been that the company was assembled from numerous acquisitions and "was all over the place," said Karl Jackson, systems specialist at Provo, Utah-based Brigham Young University, which uses CA's Unicenter management application. With more than 1,200 products, it was difficult to navigate through CA's catalogs, he explained.

But the company is finally making the lineup much less confusing and easier to grasp, he said.

Nevertheless, Kumar acknowledged that CA has its work cut out for it as it tries to explain just how the lineup will help customers.

"We have to rely on 3,000 people in the field in 60 countries communicating [the lineup], and we have to rely on all kinds of technical people and business people understanding it, and that's an area we could always do better in," Kumar said in an interview with Computerworld.

"Now they [CA] have significant wood behind the arrowhead," said analyst Michael Dortch at Robert Frances Group, a Westport, Conn.-based consultancy. He also said that CA's new pricing model, which allows for flexible contracts, as well as its services and support branch, are starting to pay off for customers.

As expected, CA made its biggest splash around Unicenter 3.0. However, Unicenter's advanced help desk could use some some additional management reporting features, said Mike Stevenson, an enterprise administrator at the Peel Regional Police data center in Brampton, Ontario.

The data center uses Unicenter 2.4 to support 2,000 end users relying on Windows NT and OpenVMS servers. As a Unicenter 3.0 beta tester, Stevenson said he wants to see refinements in the system that make more financial-related IT information accessible, such as return on investment or total cost of ownership data for products.

But not everyone is rushing to use the new Unicenter. At Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, the IT department at Israel-based El Al Israel Airlines Ltd. plans to take its time upgrading from Unicenter 2.4 to 3.0, said Arieh Berger, a manager of operations. The company recently went live with Unicenter 2.4, which took a year to assemble.

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