There’s an interesting dichotomy between old-tech and new-tech companies that crosses several dimensions: speed and level of innovation, financial performance and cultural work environment. It’s the contrast between tech stalwarts that gave us the PC, Internet and modern database and those from the post-PC generation whose origins date from the era of smartphones, social networks and cloud services. However as companies like a revitalized Microsoft under it’s cloud-savvy new CEO have demonstrated, the distinction needn’t be an unbridgeable chasm, and of old-tech companies, the former Computer Associates is perhaps the perfect evangelist of new-tech business transformation. The company that started selling mainframe software loaded by keypunch cards has successfully navigated several major technology epochs. But as I learned last week at the firm’s premier customer event, CA World and detail in this column, CA is in the midst of another rebirth that rivals its prior evolution from mainframe software developer to full-line supplier of IT infrastructure and development software.
CA sees the confluence of cloud systems and services, high-velocity, API-enabled app development and mobile device ubiquity as the catalysts for its next transition into hoped for preeminence as the arms merchant for the next-generation of business software. In sum, CA wants to be your app store and SaaS provider for a new generation of applications for the software defined business. CA execs were on message with the refrain, “software is the business” and while it over-simplifies the complexities of modern business, it served to drive home a key message: Marc Andreessen was right, software is eating the world and business success will go to those that exploit it.
As the column illustrates, there are plenty of trends in support of CA’s contention that software in all its forms, but particularly applications that engage with customers (increasingly mobile) and enable new business processes, is perhaps the most important element of business strategy. Collectively, as CA CEO Mike Gregoire pointed out, it means “applications now define a business’ relationship with its customers and fuel the productivity of its employees”, what CA terms the application economy. In this app-centric era, it means that proficiency at agile software development using DevOps methodologies, exploiting cloud services and seamlessly integrating tight security is critical to future business success.
While CA’s visionary message occupied the headlines, there was plenty of old-tech on display at CA World: mainframe management (IBM even had the guts of a mainframe on display!), central user identity control and SSO, IT portfolio management with KPI dashboards, asset tracking, etc. Indeed, listen to the Q&A during the technical sessions and it was clear most of the assembled masses were concerned about the here and now of managing existing IT systems, working with legacy CA products and learning about the latest feature upgrades.
Indeed, this apparent disconnect between the short-term needs and goals of most IT practitioners and the strategic direction business competition compels old-tech IT vendors to embrace poses a significant for executives across the industry, whether Cisco, HP, Oracle, or CA. Leaders at CA used business case studies from forward-thinking customers as the carrot, enticing attendees with stories of rapid new product development, revenue growth and ROI. Whether coming from new-tech leaders like Twitter or century-old household names like Smuckers, the message was similar: innovative use of the new technology like cloud services, mobile apps, DevOps processes and rapid, API-driven software development leads to competitive advantage via faster product and service development, new revenue streams, more satisfied and engaged customers and re-energized employees.
It’s a powerful message since in the software defined business, the race (and success) does go to the swift.