Novell CTO on Zenworks, company direction

Alan Nugent, chief technology officer at Novell Inc. in Provo, Utah, joined the company in June after holding several jobs in technology top management, including roles as managing partner and CTO at Silver Spring, Md.-based Palladian Partners Inc. and CIO and CTO at Vectant Inc., a telecommunications and service provider in New York. He was also CIO at American Re-Insurance Co.

Nugent spoke this week with Computerworld about Novell's Zenworks, the company's plans for the future and his role at the company.

Q: Novell's Zenworks, a group of products to better manage desktops and handhelds, reportedly added a significant amount of revenue in Novell's last quarter. Why did that do well?Zenworks is traditionally something Novell has invested in primarily around the NetWare platform. The more recent releases have removed the dependencies for NetWare, especially on the client. So the current and next releases of Zenworks are really independent of operating environment and as such, represent a much better value proposition to the market.

Q: How important to the IT world is Zenworks' ability to handle the extended network, including small clients?Manageability is clearly one of the biggest problems that IT organizations [face] today; the proliferation of all kinds of different devices has just added to the complexity. That's why you see IT shops trying to pull in their technology diversity. Because the more diversity you have, the more challenging the management becomes. So, we're specifically targeting the entire Zenworks products family at addressing that complexity and making the IT operations people's lives a little easier.

Q: What will be the big business focus areas for Novell?There are four. One is the Web applications development space, with our Extend product. Next is secure identity management, a collection of technologies and services that address provisioning across the network and directory-based policy management, such as single sign-on. The third is cross-platform network services, which includes traditional network services that are now available on Linux, Windows and Solaris. We've been at this already, but have formalized it. Lastly, it is consulting and technical services, the aggregation of resources of Novell technical and services teams and staff from our acquisitions: Cambridge Technology Partners and SilverStream Software.

Q: You have up to 2,000 people out of 6,000 Novell workers in services. Why so much attention on services?It is important for Novell, because as we focus on solutions instead of individual technologies, customers want a complete package. They want a solutions provider who has not only the right kinds of products, but also the professional services to take advantage of those products and get their business problems solved faster. It is a large percentage of our business now, about 38% of revenues.

Q: What do you offer in services that others don't, smarter guys?We tend to offer what others offer, but we come at it from a slightly different perspective. We're not in there to help a customer implement an application package like a lot of the other shops. We're there to help them solve a business problem that typically goes across application areas. Say I want to have a portal that gives my employees access to finance and HR and manufacturing apps, with one view into traditional silo areas. There are very few vendors that can do that from a professional services area well. We're there to help solve business problems that span multiple business domains, as opposed to just implementing a CRM solution, for example.

Q: How is the poor economy affecting Novell?We don't see the economy any differently than anybody else does right now. From the industry perspective, everybody is collectively holding their breath to see when things go back toward normal. [At] Novell, this is a good year for us. We've had two profitable quarters, and our business has grown over last year, so I guess our expectation is that as market conditions improve, we'll improve along with the market. If I had a magic wand, I'd be investing in stocks.

Q: Your CEO, Jack Messman, warned in the last quarterly report that' "It is much too early to get overly optimistic."Jack said it much better than I could.

Q: You arrived at Novell in June. Why did you come to Novell, especially after so many people have been saying, "What the hell has happened to Novell?"It's an interesting question and a good one. I joined for a variety of reasons. I'd been a Novell customer over the years and had seen both the growth Novell experienced and the market and technical leadership they had, and I also watched Novell struggle a little bit over the past few years. The drawing card for me was Novell's direction that the company has established strategically around the "one Net" [a Novell vision to help organizations consolidate multiple networks]. There's also the fulfillment of one Net with the addition of the Web application development piece.

When I looked at the company and the potential and then the market and balanced it against my perception of the market, I thought this was a great opportunity personally. I have a lot of faith in management to bring Novell out of the obscurity or the stealthiness. Novell has for many, many years done a good job of marketing to its installed base, but we need to do a better job listening to the greater market, listening to people who are customers and who are not customers and focusing on the business side. That business focus will make the difference for us. The new version of Extend coming out Oct. 7 is very important. It's a demonstration of commitment Novell has to fulfilling its one Net strategy. People should stay tuned. The next Novell is coming.

Q: Will Novell continue to be based in Provo, Utah?Yes, we have 3,000 people there, but we are consolidating our Boston offices in Waltham, Mass. near Route 128 and the Massachusetts Turnpike.

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