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‘Most Banks Use Our Applications’

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Michael P. Gregoire, the 47-year-old CEO of the $4.6-billion, Islandia, New York-based CA Technologies, has been driving key changes at the software giant since taking over a year ago. His passion for grooming talent and developing product lines has seen CA moving away from its acquisition-based model for innovation to organic development — since 2010, the company has made eight acquisitions, retooling its research and development set-up into 40 development hubs, focusing on hiring talent for creating innovative products and acquiring customers outside the Fortune 500 universe. As a result, Hyderabad has emerged as one of the key innovation hubs for CA, accounting for 20 per cent of its engineering talent, and endowed with the biggest mandate. Edited excerpts of a chat with Gregoire:

You have talked about taking the product portfolio into multiple directions...
We do three things in particular. We secure applications and infrastructure. We manage infrastructure. And we manage applications. We were one of the most dominant providers of technology for mainframes, and we still keep that heritage. We took customers from mainframes to distributed technologies. We are going through another transition right now, moving from distributed technologies to the cloud. We are going to be the only vendor out there that can work on all three different platforms on multiple product stacks. So, we are in a very enviable position.
Your mainframe and distributed revenues are 50:50 at present. How do you see that changing with the new focus on cloud?
The mainframe is always an important part for us. Now , if look at mainframe processing, it is not going down. But as far as new sales go, you will see it pivots a lot higher towards cloud and distributed solutions.

You have been talking about innovation in product development. What kind of innovation are you looking at?
Mobility is a big innovation. I spend more time on my BlackBerry than you do on your PC, and I use more applications on BlackBerry than you do on your PC. All the different things you can do with a mobile platform are now moving into the enterprise. I think that is going to be a big trend. We are definitely well-positioned in mobile device management and application management on mobile devices, and when you look at the heritage of our company, we definitely have the brand permission to play around the space.

The cloud is another big trend. As I said before, we were probably one of the biggest players in both distributed and mainframe and were doing similar things in cloud infrastructure. I think it is a natural extension for us. As far as Big Data is concerned, by both managing Big Data systems as well as by using the data we collect from our security, infrastructure and application monitoring and doing trend analysis on that data, we can help customers better understand how their infrastructure is being used as well as how their applications are performing.

There is the whole concept of DevOps — which is the real big change happening in the industry — where the lines are getting blurred between the people who build applications and those who run them. All of these changes in technology bring everybody back to zero. And now, we have to ask: who is going to innovate, who is going to execute and how fast can one make these happen?

In the mobile space, companies are developing applications at a faster rate than they were doing earlier — rating an application and launching it in 18 months after you started building it.  Now, it’s happening in a week. And so, the person who writes the application is putting it in production very quickly. Now, regardless of how you build applications, you have to go through a series of steps. After you have built it, you have to do unit testing, integration testing, system testing and performance testing.

Is that so because mobile applications are less complicated than those meant for the PC?

Some of the applications on the mobile are actually very sophisticated. They have the same level of infrastructure problems that you have on a complex application. For instance, do you want your mobile applications to be any less secure than your PC or mainframe application? The answer is, no. Do you want access to data that application is going to be hitting, and do you want it to be robust or do you want it to be very narrow? Of course, you want it to be very robust.

Most of the banking industry in the world runs through our applications; so, whether you are doing transactions on the mobile phone or going to a teller or using an ATM machine, you still want that the access to be universal, no matter where you are coming from. These new platforms put us in a situation where our products will be more ubiquitous.

Where do you see CA positioning itself vis-a-vis Big Data?
All the machinery that runs Big Data still needs to be monitored. And so do all the applications. So, we are right in the middle of that business. For example, If I am in India and if I make a purchase using the credit card here and two minutes later another purchase using the same credit card number is made in New York, Big Data will pick up the information. We will be able to see there is a non-link between the two transactions, and kick that up onto a fraud detection screen. Then, you think of all the devices. At one of the banks, we monitor 350,000 devices in real time. If we take that data and crunch it, we can pick the meantime to failure and the pattern to know when a particular device is going to fail.

Look at the thousands of transactions that are being processed. We can pinpoint where there is a bottleneck in a particular network or on a particular server or particular application. So, we generate data. We just do not do anything with them. And so, to the extent we can, we can take these large chunks of data and start sorting them. I think that’s an interesting business. I think it is very important for a software company.

Where is the business opportunity for you in DevOps?
We have a fleet of products that fit the space. We have a product called ITKO, which is really service virtualisation. And then we have our Application Performance Monitoring software that gets weaved into the early parts of the development process. So, as you are building the application, you can see where you are going to have potential performance bottlenecks.

And where does India fit into your overall scheme of things?

Well, India is very important for our company. Our development centre in Hyderabad has about 20 per cent of our total engineering population. No other development centre has a bigger mandate than India. Then, I am very encouraged by our products being sold in the local Indian market. I think we are starting to see the trend. When you take a look at India, it does not have legacy technology. India is going for new technology. If you look at the social insurance project that you have, it is using all modern technology; a big part of that is solutions. 

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(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 10-02-2014)

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