New Zealand customers have a lot to tell US companies about using their products and services in novel ways, says the users’ conduit for Computer Associates in this part of the world.
The company’s technical direction is steered by a “think tank” of a dozen strategists around technical chief Yogesh Gupta, with a support staff of researchers and developers making up the “office of the CTO”.Last year CA management decided a worldwide network was needed to funnel feedback about the reactions and needs of CA customers, and to articulate the company’s “vision” to those customers. This would avoid the office of the CTO becoming too isolated from practical needs and trends, says Rob England (pictured), the New Zealand and, for now, Australian users’ feedback representative for the New York-based powerhouse.
A “virtual office of the CTO” was established, with 20 members worldwide. Having deliberately cultivated himself as a “generalist” in CA’s multifaceted organisation where many staff are specialists in one or another of the company’s six product streams, England stood out as the appropriate man for the job when Gupta’s office came looking for someone to report back from the Australia/NZ region.
He believes he brings a distinctive antipodean flavour to the feedback from this part of the world.
“The Americans see us and Australia as a bit more blunt than they are in providing honest feedback,” he says. “I think the group values that,” he says, as a contrast to a more careful US attitude. “At least no one’s told me to pull my head in,” he says.
And though it is something of a cliché, England says there’s a lot of truth in the picture of New Zealanders and Australians “pushing the technology”.
“We use it to its full capacity and use it for creative new things that were never intended by the people who created it. US users tend to use the software for its declared purpose. The result is that we tend to discover new stuff earlier.”
Around three years ago, for example, it was clear here that computer systems were shifting from an “operators’-console-centric” view, concerned with the technology to a services perspective, where the users’ focus was on the support desk.
“I remember highlighting that and finding we were up with the Americans in that shift, if not ahead of them. Some vendors still don’t seem to have got it.”
The one area where he feels New Zealand users may be lagging a little behind their overseas counterparts is in the adoption of web services.
“Users are still only dipping their toe into web services, even in the US, but they’re further down the path than us. I really have no idea why they haven’t caught on so much here yet.”
There is, he agrees, a degree of cynicism about “the next big thing” in IT. “That’s been there since Y2K.” Users are no longer interested in new technologies for their own sake.
“Now it’s a question of ‘show me the money; show me the ROI’.”
The office of the CTO itself influenced the focus on the service offered by the company as a whole rather than those six separate streams of products. It has established common strategies and a common layer of code which means the strengths of the products can “leverage off one another”.
For example, CA has its Cleverpath business intelligence software and the garnering of business intelligence has a security requirement. This can now be met ready-made by the e-Trust security stream of products.
England gathers user feedback from his “other job” as business technologist, “though my peers — everyone is aware I’m the contact for this kind of information — and through user conferences and user groups”.
His role also works in the other direction, as an articulator of the company’s vision, and sometimes, he acknowledges, this has a promotional aspect.
CA is planning to expand the international outer ring of the CTO’s office and Australia could soon get a representative of its own.