The recently installed chief of Novell comes to the struggling software provider at a time when the company is faltering after an aborted renaissance under the guidance of Eric Schmidt (now Google.com's chief) and is unsure about what strategy to adopt. Sales remain stagnant, and Novell was recently forced to cut staff amid a climate of uncertainty in the technology industry.
But after five months on the job, Messman has started to articulate a vision that features a combination of Novell's technology and an army of consultants that came over with the chief when Novell acquired Cambridge Technology Partners in a $266 million deal originally announced in March and finalized in July.
Messman believes that Novell is better served by selling its wide variety of software as a bundle that solves a particular problem, such as network administration, therefore calling for the company to add consultants who can articulate this approach to potential customers.
Still, with Novell's stock hovering below $5 and new questions being raised about the company's future, Messman's rehabilitation project could prove daunting. The company is shackled with older businesses, such as its NetWare operating system that continues to lose market share to Microsoft and Linux. It also has had a hard time convincing companies that its technology crown jewel--a yellow pages-like directory-services software product called eDirectory--should be tied to the Web so it can manage both internal and external data.
Messman recently discussed his approach to the Novell job with News.com, touching on how an army of consultants can fit into a software company, where the company's opportunities lie, and the long shadow cast by Microsoft.
Q: As the year comes to a close, how has the Cambridge technology consulting business fit in with Novell's software business?
A: The broader trend, of course, is there is a convergence of products and services into solutions. A lot of people don't understand how that all occurred, and my view of that is products are becoming commodities. It started with the dot-com era, when CEOs were told--by what they read in the paper--that the dot-coms were going to put the brick-and-mortar companies out of business. And you can't be a CEO of a company, have that kind of stuff being said, and not pay attention to it. I think CEOs really did pay attention to it and tried to figure out what this new thing called the Internet was all about.
Did CEOs really understand about the technology?
As a result of all that, though, CEOs don't really care about technology. They don't care about the bits and bytes, how fast one (piece of technology) is versus the other. All they really care about is what's the solution and what am I going to get for what amount of dollars--what's the ROI (return on investment)? That helped to commoditize the products that underlie the solutions and got people focused on what the business return was.
Of course, now that the dot-com era is basically over with and everybody is aware of what happened, there's no longer the threat. And people are being much more studious about whether or not they want to make changes, but we're finding they're all aware of technology and the impact on their business models. They are going at a slower pace, but they still haven't focused on the underlying products. They don't care if it's Microsoft or Novell; they don't care whether it's Accenture or Cambridge. All they care about is: What is the solution, and what does it do for my business?
This approach seems to feed into the historical perception of Novell--that it has had a hard time explaining to people how its technology can change a business for the better.
Yes. We have some very, very good engineers--I think we probably have the best collection of networking engineers in the world located right here in Provo, (Utah), and they've been working on this stuff forever, it seems. They're product engineers, and the way we were characterized in the past was: salesman would walk in with a box of products, dump them on the CIO's table and say, "Hey these things are really neat. You'll have fun with them," rather than calling on the divisional president or the chief marketing officer or the head of HR and saying, "You know, we've got this people provisioning thing that'll help the administration of all your people or we have this CRM (customer relationship management) solution that'll help you get better contact with your customers," or whatever the model happened to be.
Is there something that you can offer those customers?
Novell has never called on those types of people and never had reason to because they never had a solution to offer them. The beauty of all this, from our point of view, is that--to be frank--I think people are of the opinion that Microsoft has sort of positioned us in the marketplace being a legacy product. The beauty of it, from our point of view, is the focus is no longer on the product; it's on a solution that can be enabled by any product. We believe by focusing on solutions we can generate more revenue for the Novell product line.
Now, that brings in the whole issue of agnosticism on the part of consultants, but I believe if you look at most of the Novell products in benchmark tests versus the competitive products, we're right there with them. Where we're not, we're going to use competitive products to provide the best solution for the client.
So Cambridge, serving as the consulting arm of Novell, could put together something that includes Microsoft technology?
Sure. They've done it in the past. They'll do it again. It's up to us, though, to find out why they put that Microsoft product in that solution and determine whether or not we can build the product that fits that spot that we didn't have filled or whether we ought to partner with somebody who fills that slot. But we have to remain agnostic from the point of view of the customer.
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