CA users seem more interested in products

Despite challenges, including a proxy fight that Computer Associates International Inc. faces, a number of its users are upbeat about the company's future and say they believe in its product direction.

Both CA management and a Texas-based challenger who is launching a proxy fight to oust them have been vying for the support of the company's customer base at CA World here.

For its part, the Islandia, N.Y.-based software vendor unveiled a new version of its flagship network and system management software application, Unicenter 3.0, as well as storage and security management products.

The idea of swapping out CA's management and breaking the company into four independent units, as challenger Sam Wyly plans to do, had little appeal to users interviewed yesterday.

Bruce Focht, a business analyst at financial services firm J.P. Morgan/American Century in Kansas, said that who is running CA is irrelevant "as long as they keep supporting my product." His firm uses the Jasmine ii portal to give customers access to financial data via the Web, something that formerly had to be done manually by picking through paper-based reports. Focht added that the company so far "had been good at listening to my concerns."

"Getting new management would be like having a new company, and it would be disruptive to us," said Sorel Jakins, associate director of infrastructure engineering at Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, Utah.

"We don't think there's any benefit to us to have a change," said Karl Jackson, systems specialist at BYU. He noted that the university already has a relationship with CA's management, and that CA President and CEO Sanjay Kumar has been to the campus.

But Focht and Jakins were far more interested in learning more about CA products, in particular Unicenter 3.0 The application's enhanced business process view features are of particular interest to the university's IT staff. BYU has been beta-testing Unicenter 3.0 and is planning to launch it throughout the campus. BYU relies heavily on student staff to do network monitoring, and it's much easier to train them on a product that has an easy-to-follow graphical user interface Version 3.0 automatically identifies potential problems in the network, particularly those affecting priority systems, without needing an IT staffer to drill down deeply and discover them manually, Jakins noted.

The fact that Unicenter will integrate with portals and other parts of CA's management lineup is also attractive, said Jackson. "Upper management can look at service-desk stuff like service level management and business process views in Unicenter itself, and they can understand it," he said.

Meanwhile, Wyly, who is launching a proxy battle to oust the firm's board and executive team, took out an ad in a major publication directed at CA users. Although Wyly isn't attending the show, his investment firm published an ad in USA Today on Monday in the form of an open letter to CA users. The ad from Ranger Governance Ltd. stated: "We believe the only way to run a software company is to focus on the customer." It also stated that Ranger would "work closely with customers and listen carefully to you -- so that we fully understand your business and your software needs."

But CA management is fighting back. During his keynote address Sunday, Kumar and CA Chairman Charles Wang defended the company's policies and their leadership. Wang said CA had characteristics in common with The Walt Disney Co., and "not just because some guy from Texas has a Mickey Mouse plan for our company."

Although it seems a long shot for Wyly to succeed, the fight appears to have pushed CA to make its marketing message clearer for users, one analyst said. It also seems to have energized CA's management, said James Governor, an analyst at Nashua, N.H.-based Illuminata Inc. He said Wyly's challenge seems to have brought out an intensity that was lacking and has reinvigorated the firm. "CA loves a fight," Governor said.

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