Is this the new Computer Associates in the making?

Computer Associates might not be the first IT vendor users call when they want to capitalise on e-business, but the quiet giant of the software industry wants to change that.

At its CA World user conference in New Orleans this month, the company announced it will kick off a series of products and strategies aimed at getting a bigger piece of the Internet business pie - and convince its customers that it can innovate beyond its current strength in systems and network management.

In addition to key product updates, an internal reorganisation will result in a new CA a year from now, Sanjay Kumar, the company's president and chief operating officer, promised. A substantial overhaul of CA's products and services organisations is just the first step. Introducing the Web to internal processes, such as selling software online, is also on tap.

"The single biggest driver is that our core business is changing," Kumar said.

CA's break with the past means that its core Unicenter systems management offerings and other technologies, notably its Jasmine ii application development infrastructure, will be "focused on the Web", Kumar said.

However, analysts and users said CA needs to walk the walk of e-business by backing up its embrace of the Internet with actions.

"At CA World last year, there was a lot of talk about e-business, but the company didn't have a lot to show for it," said Patrick Dryden, an analyst at Giga Information Group. "Now it has much more that it can deliver."

CA is hitching its e-business fortunes in large part to the successful integration of its neural-network agent technology, called Neugents, across its product line. Used to spot trends in data and predict potential outcomes, Neugents is being incorporated in Unicenter to predict performance bottlenecks on network nodes.

Now CA wants to use Neugents to solve business problems. With Jasmine ii, which includes a kit for building "business Neugents", CA is betting that it has found an effective and compelling mix - an application server with intelligence that is also an application development and deployment environment, said Anthony Picardi, an analyst at market data research company IDC.

"With Jasmine ii, CA is now at the cutting edge," Picardi said. If the claims about Jasmine ii's capabilities, such as pattern recognition, modelling, and alert mechanisms, pan out, then "that is a real breakthrough", he said.

One user of Jasmine ii, Hugh Armstrong, vice president and CIO of American Hotel Register, a non-food hotel products supplier, told Computerworld he has been running a preliminary deployment of Neugents for two months.

The Neugent taps into the hotel's mainframe-based ordering, return, and inventory systems, as well as the NT-based Web server, to see, for example, whether customers need more pillowcases; it then automatically orders new pillows, Armstrong said.

Armstrong has discovered, however, that he needs new data flows to help Neugents put together a complete forecast. "You may need to collect new sets of data," he said, such as weather and geographical information.

Industry observers said the Jasmine ii environment and Neugents will have much to prove to differentiate CA. In the systems management realm, an immediate shortcoming may be the device-specific nature of Neugents, said Dennis Drogseth, an analyst at Enterprise Management Association.

"Putting Neugents in every piece of hardware, in every piece of a service environment, would not be very effective," Drogseth said. "If you're looking to manage an infrastructure specifically, you can't do that on a device-by-device basis. I don't think Neugents is the only or single answer in any environment."

BMC Software, a competitor of CA, would make the same argument. BMC uses predictive technology in its automated Patrol modules for enterprise application management. BMC is stressing its smaller size and focus, which give it greater control over software implementation and its own manageability needs, BMC CEO Max Watson said.

"It's important that we can deploy our resources in a very surgical manner," Watson said. "It's not about how big you are, it's about how effective you are."

As CA plays up its new crown jewels this week, it also hopes to put to rest the image of CA as a caretaker of applications acquired in its hasty, more entrepreneurial days.

"Innovation is a lot more than software," Giga's Dryden said. What CA is trying to master is "what I would call applying innovation", Dryden said, citing the melding of niche-oriented neural-network and object-oriented technology from its Jasmine platform with systems management and vertical business applications.

But with innovation and entry into different markets comes new and revived competition.

In addition to BMC and Tivoli in the enterprise management arena, its push into other markets will introduce rivals, notably IBM and BEA in development tools and application servers and a host of ERP (enterprise resource planning) and other planning application vendors.

CA would also like to put to rest its image as a tough negotiator that ruffles feathers with partners and even customers, analysts said. Partnerships have made the days of paranoia and closed doors a thing of the past, IDC's Picardi said. "They were definitely doing the ‘big gorilla' act. Now it's the business partner act," he said.

CA World moves to the next dimension

Computer Associates' CA World 2000 user conference in New Orleans was designed to serve as a launch pad for its new e-business strategy, feature a look at Unicenter TND (The Next Dimension) in beta, and coincide with the release of Jasmine ii and BizWorks business application management framework.

CA will detail its largest reorganisation in 10 years, including revamping and merging its products and sales divisions, to better inform and update customers of the company's commitment toward enabling e-business, said Sanjay Kumar, CA's president and chief operating officer.

The reorganisation will split its sales groups into two areas: one in charge of IBM OS/390 applications and its customer set, the other in charge of e-business needs including all facets of infrastructure and enterprise management.

Along with redesigned marketing, Kumar said the company also plans to invest heavily in its Web presence, to enhance customer-interactive product sales, services, and support over the Internet.

CA World will provide users with an opportunity to get up close to Unicenter TND, the latest version of its flagship management product, Unicenter TNG (The Next Generation), said Yogush Gupta, senior vice president of product strategies at CA.

The debut of BizWorks, version 1.0, fits into CA's strategy of providing a centralised view and predictive control over business applications said Gary Layton, vice president of marketing for the InterBiz group at CA. Based on neural-network agents, the BizWork framework includes Jasmine ii and "wrapper" adapters for InterBiz and third-party applications. "It is, in fact, an architecture allowing an applications level of integration within the enterprise," Layton said.

Jasmine ii combined in this way could lead to some interesting business-to-business applications, said Anthony Picardi, an analyst at IDC. "What you could have is Jasmine ii as the integrated hub for building a supply chain," Picardi said.

CA will be dropping the Intellikits brand name for the Interbiz Neugents, Layton said. Also, the first Neugents for InterBiz applications, which are in beta, will be for fraud and account detection.

BizWorks has been installed in several beta sites including a plastic manufacturer's factory where Neugents is being used to monitor an injection moulding system, Layton said. The information gathered from the Neugent will put the brakes on production if there is a quality control problem. A Neugent could eventually be used to determine which customers will be affected by a line coming down. A Neugent link between operations and CA's supply-chain application, for instance, could result in an operations-to-planning and scheduling correlation that would dynamically adjust the supply chain.

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