Window for excuses is narrowing, but success stories increasing, some say
Computer Associates' new channel programs, strategies and policies don't represent the company's first attempt to endear itself to partners, but they may be its best in a long while, according to some current allies. Consider the case of Terry Elton, vice president of business development at SteelCloud, a CA OEM and solutions partner. In an interview this week at CA World in Las Vegas, he contrasted working with CA today and CA of the past.
"Very much different," he says, recalling a previously unsuccessful attempt to hook up with then-Computer Associates while working for another company. That was back in 1997 when CA executives sought to increase their business by enlisting third-party allies to work on their behalf. When he was at NCI, a privately held $100 million-plus company, Elton recalls a visit from CA's then-top two executives, co-founder and former chairman CEO Charles Wang and one-time CEO Sanjay Kumar. The duo persuaded NCI to set up a practice selling software solutions using products from Computer Associates. NCI sank money and time into the effort, but came up short generating anything close to what it had hoped from the union. In contrast, his current employer, SteelCloud, may well double the amount of money it does with CA next year, thanks to robust success in both its OEM and solution-provider businesses.
"When CA came around the first time, it said all the right things but still had a sales team that was direct and a services arm that didn't care who you talked to," Elton says. "It was a total disaster, so for me to be sitting here talking about CA's channel program [in a positive way]--it really surprises me."
Why is he a believer? One reason is CA's investment in people. Now when he speaks to CA field and headquarters personnel assigned to work with partners, he asks about their career plans and tenure with the company. More, he notes, plan on staying. Another thing he has noticed: the interaction between various parts of the company working with the internal channel team. That includes the company's direct sales arm and its CA technical-services organizations.
"In the past, [the technical services arm] had revenue numbers to hit and any subcontracting or outsourcing was given to the lowest bidder. Now they recognize that that channel is a part of the future of CA," Elton adds.
A 2005 CA Partner of the Year, SteelCloud is one of a handful of companies participating in a pilot program called CA Roadmap, designed to help CA develop comprehensive go-to-market strategies and implementation plans with key allies. The goal of the program is to help top partners attract new customers while transferring bets practices to and from partners. Elton's company has benefited from participating in the initiative, as has another 2005 CA Partner of the Year, Ciber.
Ciber CTO Tony Ferrigno is equally excited about the prospects of working with CA, despite the company's lackluster performance in the 2005 VARBusiness Annual Report Card (ARC) study of partner satisfaction. A one-time winner of the ARC award in Security Management Software, CA dropped to the back of the pack this year. But Ferrigno expects satisfaction to improve as 2006 unfolds.
For one thing, sales of CA products are on the grow. Ciber's CA business, for example, has doubled in the past year. In addition, partners are seeing commitment to allies on the rise. The company has assigned nearly 100 new people to work with partners, he notes, plus developed go-to-market strategies for partners of all sizes and ilk. That's a big change from the past when the company lavished the bulk of its attention on its best enterprise partners.
There are other reasons why he believes CA will prove itself to be a better business ally, too. For one thing, it no longer is distracted by the U.S. government's investigation and subsequent involvement with its business. And it has new managers and executives running the show who hail from more traditional, channel-oriented companies. It has new investments in R&D and a commitment to shore up its share price with an aggressive stock repurchase program. That's bolstered by the best asset sheet the company has had in years. All that leads Ferrigno to believe CA may be a more strategic partner going forward.
That's why his company dropped its strategic association with HP's OpenView platform so that it could concentrate more of its energies around CA's products and services.
"When we approach outsourcing, our goals are twofold: lower customer costs and improve service levels. We're able to do that consistently with CA," Ferrigno says.
As his company gets deeper into managed services, it is taking a closer look at some of the traditional choices many solution providers have made when it comes to vendors around which thousands of companies have built a business. He, for one, buys into the notion that the partners solution providers choose to help build their managed-services practices may not necessarily be the ones they adopted when putting a product portfolio together for their traditional, transaction-oriented, product sales-based project businesses.
As for the potential for disappointment with CA, Ferrigno says that it is definitely a concern, but not one that he frets over too much.
"Now it feels like any cloud is moving from overhead, and that CA is able to focus on product strategies, vision, etc. It may be like rebuilding Rome one rock at a time...but if we have this conversation same time next year, there are no more excuses," Ferrigno adds.