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Opinion

The state of play at CA
Simon Perry By: Simon Perry, Principal Associate Analyst - Sustainability, Quocirca (Moved)
Published: 30th July 2009
Copyright Quocirca © 2009
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During the company's 33-year history "CA" has been said to stand for many things: "Change Always", "Constant Aggravation", "Chicken Again" (for those who have enjoyed the poultry catering at the vendor's yearly user conference), and even occasionally "Computer Associates". Ironically it is the latter moniker that the vendor seems frustratingly unable to shake off even after officially changing its name in 2006 to simply "ca". At the vendor's industry analyst symposium, held recently in Ottawa, even the happy reference customers shipped in to share their stories of success and partnership seemed unable to remember that their host's brand had been updated, referring to "Computer Associates" more than once during their otherwise glowing descriptions of the products and levels of customer service they now receive.

Branding issues aside, CEO John Swainson was keen to stress, "This is not your grandfather's CA." Swainson and fellow execs emphasised that the accounting scandals of the past are now a distant blip in the rear-view mirror and that all eyes are towards the future. The various reference customer stories would seem to support that claim, while CFO Nancy Cooper presented financial performance numbers indicative of a smoother ride through the turbulent economic waters of the past twelve months than many IT vendors can boast. CA's unsecured debt rating has recently been upgraded by Moody's Investors Service to "Baa3" from "Ba1", though Wall Street (again) appears not to have noticed—the share price continuing to trade in the $17 to $18 range.

With a credit rating now several grades above California's (a state referred to in the US by the two letter code "CA") the vendor is well placed to be able to bolster its solid cash position with better interest terms for current debt as well as any potential new debt lines needed to support future strategic market moves. The vendor continues to trim expenses through headcount reductions, divestiture of a bloated property portfolio (a legacy of the 50 or so acquisitions CA has completed), and modernisation of the previously archaic spaghetti of internal processes and systems.

No successful company survives a recession however merely by cutting costs; successful companies invest wisely during lean markets through both organic growth and strategic acquisition. CA's exec's were predictably coy on the subject of potential acquisitions, other than to say that any performed would be designed to improve the performance of existing business units rather than being intended to take the vendor into entirely new markets. So while market investment remains a "wait and see", there is already significant evidence of investment in internal sales and development.

Meanwhile, if there was ever an audience that can judge the accuracy of Swainson's "Not your Grandfather's CA" claim it is the mainframe management field. IBM's big iron platform, relied upon for its performance, scalability and reliability, is hardly considered sexy and modern. You're far more likely to find someone's grandfather dealing with the esoteric systems management tasks for the environment than you are a twenty something recent IT industry entrant.

While CA continues to be a major mainframe market player over the last decade, it has allowed its attention to be diverted away from fully supporting its substantial mainframe customers. As CA focused its attention during the last two decades on building out its distributed systems plays it allowed its mainframe toolset and staff skills base to languish and decline in size and relevance. As a result CA's market share has been whittled away by competitors like IBM and BMC, while vendors like HP and Microsoft have put much effort toward attempting to shift customers off the platform completely.

There is much evidence however that CA has again remembered the significance of the mainframe market and, today, CA's mainframe business unit, headed by CA long timer and EVP Chris O'Malley, provides perhaps the best evidence of the internal investment CA is making as it looks toward the future. O'Malley describes the development investment now being poured into reinvigorating CA's mainframe management play as being "the largest single investment we are making in development effort." It remains to be seen whether Grandad Sysprog can forgive CA for losing interest in them for so long, however no one can rightly accuse O'Malley and his team of a less than sterling effort.

Meanwhile SVP Dave Hansen's security management business unit continues to address the occasional execution misstep of recent years whilst nimbly and wisely striding into complementary markets by way of the acquisition of DLP vendor Orchestria. Hansen's team is jostling for market share in the identity management market with the likes of IBM and Oracle, even as the latter continues to attempt to smoothly swallow Sun. Oracle perhaps ought to look back to the effort CA made immediately after its 2004 acquisition of web security vendor Netegrity to reassure a somewhat nervous user base of its post acquisition product intentions.

While Sun's identity management customers consider what the roadmap might be for them CA is launching an aggressive swapout program to displace Sun security software with its own. Any customers tempted by CA's offer do need to consider the services effort involved in the product exchange, however the programme is worth a look if for no other reason than as a leverage point in future pricing negotiations with Oracle.

Hansen's team is not without challenges of its own however. CA's security information and event management (SIEM) capabilities, once on the ascent in the market, have now languished for several years. CA's share of the SIEM market has basically declined to irrelevance as products failed to deliver on performance and functionality promises and development roadmaps failed to be executed. Hansen seems well aware however of the need to revive the vendor's performance in this space, and time will tell whether this time CA can succeed. One suspects that they only have one more roll of the SIEM dice.

CA's overarching message, tying together systems and network management, mainframe, security and its nascent governance product portfolio is referred to as "Lean IT", which itself is described as a deliverable of its EITM strategy. The lean economic times of late have made CA hungry for success and in many areas there is evidence that the infrastructure management vendor has got its missing mojo back. Granddad might not recognise aspects of today's CA, which is not necessarily a bad thing. CA—perhaps it now actually stands for "Consider Again".

Quocirca recently attended CA's Industry Analyst symposium in Ottawa. The author worked for CA until 2007, and today holds no financial interest in the vendor.

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