This year's CA World saw Computer Associates (CA) make an unprecedented attempt to woo the reseller channel with a range of systems management products targeted at the burgeoning small to medium-enterprise market.
A consolidated global channel programme, a revamped global services and support organisation, and a commitment to make all of its products available through third parties reinforced the company's intention to throw off its reputation as a direct-to-big-business software vendor.
But as a number of independent analysts and industry experts have pointed out, CA will need more than just good intentions if it is to transform itself into a successful channel focused vendor.
People are now the most valuable commodity in the software industry.
CA's failure to acquire CSC has brought this fact home and serves to highlight the potential flaw in CA's proposed strategy to push at least 50 per cent of its total business through the channel within the next 18 months.
The problem is that CA is a company built upon acquisition. The SME-targeted Work Group edition, on which the success of its channel strategy resides, is really a diverse range of complex software products which the vendor has bought up, repackaged and thrown together. Resellers given the task of selling, installing and supporting the range, will need a broad skillset to do the job effectively.
'I think CA has completely missed the point,' said Richard Mathewson, marketing manager at Tivoli, which owns IT Director, CA's main competitor in the SME systems management market.
'The Work Group edition has not been designed for the ease of installation that SMEs demand. Because this is essentially a bunch of non-integrated products, you need a high level of service just to get up and running.'
This is not a new problem for CA. Gartner Group, which was mysteriously not invited to CA World, amid rumours that CA's chief executive Charles Wang was unhappy with the criticism that its analysts had levelled at the software company, recently published a report concerning the high deployment costs of system management software. The report found that at enterprise level (CA's traditional area of expertise), more than 70 per cent of companies purchasing new system management software had failed to achieve a return on investment, with deployment time occasionally stretching to three-and-a-half years and counting.
One of CA's customers present at CA World told PC Dealer that the ratio of deployment cost to product cost was about 3:1.
Mark Marron, CA European channel manager, claimed this was an exaggeration, but was decidedly sketchy in his own estimate. 'I think it's more like 1:1 or 2:1,' he said. Whether we are talking about products which cost $10 million or $10,000, Marron's margin of error will bother customers and confuse resellers.
In response to the high maintenance levels of its products, CA has vowed to boost its services division both organically and through acquisition.
It has also launched a channel accreditation programme. But, again, there appears to be some confusion as to how much resellers will be charged to get trained up.
Yogesh Gupta, CA senior VP of product strategy, claimed that training would be provided free of charge. He said: 'We do not charge for our accreditation programmes - we see this as an investment.'
'That's not strictly true,' corrected Marron. 'While we do provide free sales training for partners, technical training costs approximately $4,000 for a 10-day course, with the potential for refresher courses as products are upgraded.' Elementary maths should tell you there's a big difference between the real cost of training a dozen staff and the figure suggested by Gupta.
The final question which CA appears less than certain about concerns which distributors and Vars will be authorised to roll out these products.
While Marron indicated he would not look to companies dealing with a rival (ie Tivoli) and declined to say which companies would become CA partners, his CEO was adamant that a key player such as Ingram Micro - which has already signed up to sell IT Director in the US - would also distribute CA's product line. 'All major distributors will take advantage of these products,' said Wang.
In this atmosphere of uncertainty, it's difficult to predict the success of CA's channel policy.
But one thing is certain; CA is negotiating a deal with Avnet to distribute its channel product line in the US. Avnet's announcement that it is to purchase Bytech Systems, the principal distributor of IT Director in the UK, will guarantee that things will get more confusing before they get any clearer.
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