Computer Associates (CA) could have been compared to a swan during its CA World 2004 event in Las Vegas last week.
It appeared calm and graceful on the surface, but just a look beneath the water and the frantic activity propelling it along in the wake of recent management shake-ups and accounting investigations would have been clearly visible.
With Sanjay Kumar stepping down as chairman and chief executive less than a month before the event, Ken Cron, interim chief executive, had landed the unenviable task of presenting a hastily cobbled together keynote. Although the keynote seemed to last about the right amount of time, it didn't actually say a great deal.
However, as the week progressed and more product and strategy news emerged, sighs of relief could be heard around the conference centre of the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas as it emerged that CA does have a strong product offering to back up its strategy.
The general message was that no one was better placed to benefit from this than the channel.
Cron said in his keynote: "The channel is going to be our number-one priority this year. CA is a company with huge strength in technology, people and products.
"In just a couple of years CA has made great strides in putting customers in control. We offer software that delivers real value to businesses. Companies demand a return on every dollar that is invested."
CA loudly blew the management trumpet this year. Products unveiled included Enterprise Infrastructure Management, Unicenter Service Management and strategies based around information lifecycle management (ILM) and Linux.
Security was another big area of focus for CA, with the launch of eTrust Vulnerability Manager r8 and an eTrust Managed Vulnerability Service.
While shining a light on all of the new product releases, Cron was careful to stress that the channel plays a vital role in helping CA deliver to customers.
"Over the past year CA has been building up its channel operation to make it easier to buy through partners and for partners to sell," he said.
Unveiling the vendor's rebranded global channel strategy, One Partner, Cron said CA is looking to extend its penetration into the SME market and that it "needs the channel to take it there".
CA has always used the annual CA World event to announce its channel changes. Last year it announced the Partner Profitability Programme, which divided partners into four groups based on different business models: Affiliate, Premier, ISV and OEM.
The programme was intended to run alongside the vendor's 'channel preferred' model for selling its security and storage brands, launched the previous year.
This year, CA has decided to bring the two programmes under a single umbrella, the One Partner programme.
Gary Quinn, executive vice-president of CA, said although One Partner groups together different types of partners, each category will have its "unique programme" within the overall scheme.
In the US this will work at a regional level, and in Europe at a country level. A system builder strand to the programme has been launched in the US and plans to extend that to Europe are "in the pipeline", he added.
"Partners can come to us and, depending on their business model, they will choose which programme they wish to work with," Quinn said. "The whole partner focus is on a simple, flexible and integrated programme."
Carlos Escapa, vice-president EMEA channel sales at CA, said the opening of its Customer Interaction Centre (CIC) in Barcelona has further proved CA's dedication to its partners.
The centre provides partners with qualified leads, because CA's sales people are offered incentives to sell through the channel.
Escapa added that CA is looking to double the number of Affiliate level partners in Europe in the next year from 10,000 to 20,000 to cope with the demand created by the CIC.
"The channel is extremely important, and it is vital to us that partners feel comfortable about how they deal with us. We are doing our best to make that possible," he said.
It seems that CA's dedication to the channel is paying off, because partners at the event were upbeat about their future with the company.
Simon Hill, director for UK product distribution at distributor Azlan, a division of Computer 2000, said: "It was a positive CA world from a channel perspective. CA has really spent a lot of time reconfirming its commitment to channel partners and also on expanding its channel.
"Another positive aspect is the fact that it is looking to migrate enterprise-class products down through the channel. We were presented with immediate here-and-now opportunities at the event. CA has ambitions in the SME space which again is good news for the channel.
"The thing that really blew me away was the breadth of CA's product range. However, the delivery is the acid test. Everything we saw at the event perpetuates CA's channel message, but it has admitted it still has work to do, and we look forward to the fruition of its plans."
Dave Simpson, sales director at VAR Softcat, said: "About eight months ago it felt as if CA had no continuity, but it has put a structure in place that works well at our level. It wants to embrace the channel and seems to be saying the right things."
Kate Hembury, sales director at WStore, also thought the vendor was making all the right noises.
"It seems interested in working with partners that offer different value-add and we are working closely with the company in the SME space," she said.
"We intend to keep working with it on our online configuration service in both storage and security, where customers build the solution of their choice based around CA software."
Jon Collins, associate at analyst Quocirca, said CA's strategy is finally beginning to emerge.
"Two years ago CA really didn't know what was going on, but it brought its strategy on with the introduction of six main brands. Last year it put out its direction based on strategy, and this year we are finally starting to see deliverables," he said.
"It has seemed a slow process, but that is for two reasons. First, it is impossible to move the CA tanker any faster, and second, CA's tanker is part of a large flotilla that makes up the IT industry."
Collins added that CA initially started to build a common framework of components that its applications ran on, but it has since realised that it can plug in other components, including open source, for a fraction of the cost.
"To be a success in the jungle that is the IT industry, it has to offer real solutions, that are a real help to IT managers. It is focusing more and more on the customer by offering packaged solutions," he said.
"Because it has been observing the industry for the past three years, it has always been moving towards IT as a service, and this is the right direction to take. From a channel perspective this is good because resellers are the ones that provide the services."
With so much optimism emanating from its channel partners, CA's tale is unlikely to have a Swan Lake ending. But the vendor has a little more frantic paddling to do before it can truly sit back, relax and allow itself to be carried on the crest of a long-anticipated wave.
Azlan (01189) 897700
Computer Associates (01753) 577733
Quocirca (01753) 754 838
Softcat (0870) 800 1000
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