New CA exec says CA World to be held in '05 after all

Computer Associates International will have its CA World user conference next year after all -- but in the fall of 2005, not the spring, CEO-elect John Swainson said in an interview today.

"We are going to have a CA World in 2005," Swainson said in a telephone interview with Computerworld. "We are looking now for dates in the fall."

Swainson said he originally supported the decision to postpone CA World until 2006, which customers learned about on Monday, the same day Swainson was unanimously chosen by the CA board as the company's next CEO. In writing to customers about the postponement to 2006, CA officials said they needed time to "redefine" the show.

Customers were disappointed, but some said it might give Swainson time to set priorities for the company and its products.

Without explaining what prompted the change, Swainson said, "I'm anxious to do the show. I like these things." He said he realized that some customers who had been planning for the spring 2005 show were concerned about losing momentum for new initiatives, including making the Ingres database available under an open-source license.

There will be specialized education tracks at the fall show, and it will be "business-oriented and strategy- and education-oriented," he said. "We'll turn it into something that really does live up to its reputation as a problem-solving conference for infrastructure management professionals."

The fall show will have to be run by an outside firm, simply because CA no longer has some of the personnel needed to produce it, Swainson said.

He said the initial postponement made sense because it would be difficult for him as a relatively new leader to "stand up and articulate a strong strategy for the business." Interim CEO Kenneth Cron "was placed in a very difficult job" when he had to talk about business strategy at the last CA World in May, he said.

On another topic, Swainson said he intends to focus first on customers, putting them even ahead of investors. He said that at IBM, where he served for 26 years, he met or talked by phone to one customer every day, and he intends to continue that practice at CA.

"I am a very customer-focused guy," he said. "Customers pay the bills, so at the end of the day, customers always come first, and they even come ahead of investors because customers pay the bills that end up returning the investors' capital. You cannot build a durable business if you do not have satisfied customers."

Part of the decision to hold a CA World in the fall of 2005 came out of his customer-centric views, he said.

Swainson conceded that some customers might still be troubled by CA's financial accounting problems, which led to a settlement with federal officials and resulted in former CEO Sanjay Kumar being indicted for fraud, conspiracy and obstruction of justice in September.

"I'm not so naive to think that we don't have to deal with how the customer sees us," he said. "But a lot of the legal and self-inflicted wounds are in fact behind us. A lot, but not all.

"CA customers are relieved that the issues are behind us, although I"m not going to pretend that I know how all of them feel yet. I have not done a broad survey, but [I know they are behind us] by virtue of the fact that they've hung with us and are anxious for us to succeed. I want to give them a continued reason to justify that optimism.

"Our customers are now watching and waiting to see what we do next."

In its settlement with federal officials, CA must appoint a new chief compliance officer and add independent directors to the board, as well as draft a comprehensive compliance program. One new board member, Laura Unger, was installed last week. CA is "in the process of finding someone that has the right profile and gravitas to be able to do this job," Swainson said, adding he doesn't know when the compliance officer will be named.

Regarding CA software, Swainson said he has "no idea" what products might stay or go in the 500 product families that CA sells. "I'm not looking to dump products, and realize we have a commitment to support them on a going-forward basis. But I realize it's logical that, of the 500 products, not every one represents the strategic future of how customers want to build, run or manage their enterprises. Life-cycle and systems management and security are very highly connected under the banner of enterprise infrastucture management, and CA will be looking for ways to integrate those [areas] and augment them through acquisition or development."

Swainson said CA will continue to focus on software products used for mainframe systems, products that now account for half of CA's revenues. "We'd be crazy not to focus on the mainframe," he said. "The mainframe is not going to die, and will be around for basically forever."

Swainson said he realizes the mainframe market is growing slowly, maybe 1% to 2% annually, while the entire market -- which includes Linux, Windows and distributed systems generally -- is growing at a rate of 5% to 8%. "We'll also focus where the growth is. Our play is integrated solutions around the enterprise, and it has to be heterogeneous and including Windows."

One CA customer said he was glad CA World will be in the fall of 2005 rather than skipping an entire year.

"I'm glad, but it's kind of a surprise actually," said the user, Gregg Smith, a Windows NT administrator at Media General Inc. in Richmond, Va., and president of the Mid-Atlantic Help Desk User Group. Still, he said, it would be nice if the show could be held next spring before the release of new Service Desk software products from CA. "By fall, the new releases will already be out," he said.

Smith was also glad to hear that Swainson plans to focus on the customer. "That's a smart comment, that customers are more important than investors," said Smith. "He hit the nail on the head. You definitely need customers to pay back the investors."

Another user echoed Smith's comments about the show.

"That's a good thing to carry forward with CA World in fall 2005," said Tyler McGraw, a database administrator at paper maker Bowater Inc. in Greenville, S.C. McGraw said he felt that having the conference in 2006 would mean a loss of momentum for Ingres users who have been pleased that CA is backing an open source license for the database. "We don't want to lose momentum for Ingres open source," he said.

"Obviously Swainson made his decision to have it in the fall because many people felt the same way," McGraw said.