CA: Call It A Channel Culture Change

One of the big takeaways from CA Technologies' Channel Summit this week is the idea that CA is ready to leave its messy channel past behind and engage with partners like never before. And at the kickoff of the summit Tuesday in New York, several CA executives made reference to the mistakes the company has made in the past -- and suggested the wheels are in motion to create a truly partner-focused CA community going forward.

"We've begun that journey," said George Fischer, executive vice president and group executive, worldwide sales and operations, in an interview with CRN. "It's a continual process optimization, and having an alignment of business models, consumption models, MSP licenses, all the various license types and approaches and aligning to business objectives."

David Bradley, senior vice president of global channel sales, told CRN that CA has spent a lot of time in the past 18 months remaking its executive ranks and learning from channel partners how it can be a better and more responsible vendor. Bradley's message for partners who remember CA's years of channel fickleness is: give us another chance, and we'll make it work, for real this time.

Admittedly, said Bradley, it's a lot to ask of partners. CA's tone at the Channel Summit -- its first in several years -- had a ring of humility in the midst of opportunity and cloud computing excitement.

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"I was expecting a company that was still learning its way in terms of leadership and collaboration," said Bradley, describing his expectations for CA when he joined the company as its global channel chief in September 2010. "I was expecting a company that had major pockets of resistance to changing the coverage model and the compensation practices that go with it, and I was expecting a company that is less channel friendly than it is. But at a leadership level, this may be the most collaborative place I've ever done business with. Everyone's really excited."

Bradley said more than 125 partners showed up to the Summit -- CA had initially expected many fewer -- because they recognize the change in the company's channel attitude.

"I ask them to take a hard look," Bradley said of skeptical partners. "At the end of the day, I don't want to be another person from CA Technologies who promises we've got all this fixed. We've got some hard work ahead of us. But I'm here at a point in time when our leadership and business strategy has changed, and is very compelling compared to where it was with my predecessors."

The promise of cloud computing is a powerful thing, Bradley said, and CA has the technology to embrace it.

"I hope partners take away that that the technology portfolio is not as strong as they thought it was," he said. "It's even stronger. And the reason I think that's relevant is that we're going to take the program in behind it. I don't want them to think of it as version 62 of a reseller program."

Among nuts-and-bolts changes to CA's partner program, Bradley said, are improvements to its instructor-led education, and also the opening up of its certification and testing programs to more partners. More partners will also gain access to CA's professional services offerings, as CA looks to grow that piece of its business through more solution providers.

There will be tangible changes, Bradley said, starting with tools like CA's quote process and how it handles special bids, as well as the number of executives who need to approve those things.

"We need to crush that down to a shorter number of days, and need to remove the majority of approvers in that loop," he said. "It's a short-term solution. A longer-term solution is to take a hard look at pricing strategies and how we structure contracts, and how we talk about deal-registration."

Don't expect a lot of "whiz bang" stuff at the outset, Bradley said. CA, above all is, "committed to getting the fundamentals right" and sharing ideas for how to "simplify, simplify again and simplify again."

It'll also mean positioning CA more effectively in the marketplace. For example, a big part of CA's appeal, its executives argued, is its heterogenous approach to partnership, and the fact that its software and management platform works strategically with a wide variety of IT systems.

"There are very few companies that are selling solutions cross-platform," Fischer said. "[Customers] don't want lock-in. They want option and the flexibility of competitive choice."

"Look at the portfolio and you see us as complementary, which makes us look like a good choice," Bradley added. "I think [CEO] Bill [McCracken] said it best: no one big company is going to have best in class. It's still an integration world out there, and customers don't want to get into a single stack."

Next: CA Partners Ready To Give CA Another Look

Count Joe Nocera, a principal at PricewwaterhouseCoopers, a professional services firm, among CA partners that like what they're hearing from the vendor.

"Clarifying the rules of engagement will be important, and looking at alignment and compensation models," Nocera said. "I think everyone is well-intentioned."

PricewaterhouseCoopers does most of its partnering with CA on systems integration opportunities in the Fortune 500 -- a market segment where CA's ability to provide management and interoperability for public, private and hybrid cloud models really resonates, Nocera said.

"Every one of them is talking about virtualization and what it means from a cloud perspective," Nocera said. "The other discussion I would highlight is information security. With some of the recent headlines, that's not going to go away, and it's going to continue to be a focus."

So does its message of interoperability, he added.

"I don't have any clients who have one vendor, and all are concerned about lock-in," Nocera said. "No one wants to make a commitment to a single vendor. CA is embracing that, and have put themselves in a situation that draws stickiness to what they do."

The culture change at CA has been evident, Nocera agreed.

"The culture and the quality of the people has changed and there's been a dramatic shift in the talent over the last two years," he said. "And if you talk to a technical analyst ou tin the field, you hear similar messages. It's clear to me there's been a cultural shift."

It'll be a while before many solution providers give CA the channel praise it seeks. But according to several solution providers, the fact that 125 partners did show up to the Summit and are looking for ways to engage with CA says a lot about the work its executive team has put in.

"They've got a long way to go," said a senior vice president at a national solution provider, who asked that his name not be used. "If you've been around the channel any good length of time, you're aware that they've been a disaster to work with and they've burned a whole lot of partners. We'll have to wait and see, OK? But look at the turnout here and look at the candor. I'm encouraged and I think things are changing."