‘Our products support enterprise computing, which goes beyond any specific platform, any specific user.”“Our products support enterprise computing, which goes beyond any specific platform, any specific user.’

–Charles Wang, Chairman and CEO, Computer Associates

Heterogeneity across the infotech landscape is what makes Computer Associates thrive. With its core competence built around managing multiplicity of systems, operating environments, networks and applications in global enterprises. As pivotal to growth as the hundred plus acquisitions is its product portfolio including the flagship product Unicenter and now Neugents, Jasmine, OpenIngress and others. The organization culture of the $5 billion software juggernaut has been built from the no-nonsense, matter-of-fact approach of Charles Wang, its founder chairman. A Chinese by origin and a graduate in Business Studies, Wang created Computer Associates (CA) from scratch during 1974-76 and has never looked back since. His message to his employees, “You better have fun doing work,” has created a top-notch work culture lauded by Fortune magazine as ‘Best company to work for’ and Computerworld as ‘Best place to work’. His ‘technology for business’ approach for solution offerings from CA has made him one of the best advocates on the CEO-CIO disconnect, a malaise in global corporations as old as the mainframe. A desire leading him to espouse the infamous TechnoVision book and its recent successor. In New Delhi recently, Wang met with senior editors from DATAQUEST, including Pradeep Gupta, Publisher; Shyam Malhotra, Editor-In-Chief; Hoshie Ghaswalla, Chief Editor, PC Magazines; and Arun Shankar. Excerpts of the conversation around the CEO-CIO disconnect.

  • Computerization in India is a relatively recent phenomenon and we have a more limited baggage of legacy systems. Do you think this will limit the extent of the CEO-CIO disconnect?
    When you look at what has happened–yes, you do not have the legacy of a long history of CIOs and so forth. But you have the same issues. China, India–there is such a love of technology. There is a big tendency for business people to say–I leave this to the technologists. Many times those decisions are really business or even philosophical decisions. If you leave it to the technical people, they will always have a tendency to rebuild everything because that is what they are trained to do. Whereas, you really should say, how do I maximize the use of this technology for my business.

  • Do you think there is a specific time frame for IT to be recognized as a core function of business similar to manufacturing, marketing, finance, HR and so on?
    I do not think there is any specific time frame. There is a new generation of CEOs–they are very well-versed from a technical point of view, and understand the role of technology, marketing and how it is to be integrated. As this new generation of CEOs emerge you will see the convergence of all of these things, when they start to look at the business very differently from the old days. 

    I do not think it is a matter of a CEO having the ability to use technology as much as the understanding of what the role of technology can be. And 
    this is so important because if he does not understand that then he will always go back to thinking it is an accounting machine or
    productivity machine.

  • Do you think IT vendors are also responsible for contributing to the CEO-CIO disconnect?
    I think we are the cause of it–forget about contribution. As technology people we like to keep it a big mystery. It is almost like the doctors–when they write a prescription they make sure you cannot read it. And every four to five years everything is obsolete, so we have a brand new market to sell into. We always sell as high-tech people to other high-tech people.

  • Do we need a different breed of CIOs to cope with increasing
    complexities of technology and shorter product life cycles?

    No–the same kind of CIOs. He should understand the business and understand how technology can play a role in establishing the business.

  • Has there been an improvement in the CEO-CIO disconnect with the advent of the web?
    I think the problem still exists. Just because you have another way of getting information does not mean that the use of the information gets any better. I think most CEOs still have the tendency to look at IT as an accounting machine–automating what we do manually. They are not looking at how we use this technology to build business but rather how we use it to count faster.

  • Has the disconnect not improved with web-based applications, groupware, ERP and other enterprise information systems?
    No. It is just as bad. What difference does it make just because you can get the information in a different form and in a different way. We used to have mainframes, then we went to time sharing, then we went to PCs, now we are going back to mainframes–still the same issues.

  • Your product roadmap and strategy for Unicenter is quite well-established. What about the rest of your product portfolio?
    When you say the rest of the portfolio–it is a lot of products, a lot of solutions. Unicenter happens to be the flagship, but they continue because we live in a heterogeneous world. All our products continue to support the use of enterprise computing, which goes beyond any specific platform and any specific user. You should look on it [portfolio] as an integration vehicle to integrate everything you need to manage your IT.

  • How well-developed is your product portfolio for deployment on the web?
    I don’t know if you know–we are the largest security provider on the web. We have the largest security software portfolio, larger than any other company. IBM even resells our security for the web. You cannot look at the web as a totally different island. It must be integrated in your overall IT infrastructure.

    We do not look at internet as a separate world. It must be integrated with the total IT infrastructure. Everybody tends to think of it as a separate world. I think that is a big mistake. All the top magazines in the US once said ‘Mainframe is dead’, and I was the only one who said ‘No it’s not dead’, because we live in a heterogeneous world. Today we have mainframes, client-server and internet. And we are going to have others that you and I cannot even dream of yet. That is the real world we live in.

  • Looking at a particular product from your portfolio, what are your plans for Ingress? 
    Ingress is a very, very good product technologically, but from the marketing point of view, it does not have the mindshare of Oracle. A lot of that technology has now been incorporated into Jasmine. We have strongly believed that there is a different marketplace for pure object database. We do not believe in the hybrid model of relational and object databases living together. We believe in a pure object database with lots of gateways into legacy Oracle, DB2 and others.

  •  What are your key R&D areas?
    There are two areas that we are very, very involved in besides management of infrastructure. The first area is 3D visualization. We are the only ones with a basic 3D interface called real-world interface. This is going to be bundled with NT 2000 and is bundled today with different varieties of Linux. The second area is Neugents. We have used Neugents specifically in the area of monitoring performance of networks and service systems, which is our core competence. But now we are working with clients to take this technology and apply it to their business data.

  • What are your plans for acquisitions in India?
    Obviously, I cannot say as yet. Our company is built on a three-prong strategy. One is development, through products like Unicenter, Jasmine and Developer CA. The second is acquisitions. We acquire key technologies, key technology people and key client bases. And the third piece is integration. We are going to continue with that strategy. In India and China, so far we have chosen to do more of joint ventures than buying established companies.

  • How do you distinguish when to make an acquisition and when to proceed with a joint venture?
    If it starts off as a core competency that we would need, for example visualization, we would probably do it as an acquisition. If it is very localized we are going to help build we would probably look at it as a ‘joint venture’.

  • Where have we reached in terms of your investment plans in India?
    Sanjay Kumar, President and COO, made the announcement two years ago, that we are going to invest $100 million. And we are right on track to do that.

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