Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Concerns about Novell - Layoffs, etc.

I've had the opportunity of late to provide commentary - directly and indirectly - to Novell regarding their long-term viability. This topic comes up as a result of their recent layoffs, which as I had stated earlier, do not surprise or concern me greatly.

Here's some excerpts of what I've said on the topic of Novell and 'execution':

"Nobody will tell you that Novell's problems are technology related. Unfortunately, marketing alone isn't going to fix the most significant problem facing our Provo friends. There are a lot of sacred cows at Novell, and very few people there are brave enough and/or sufficiently empowered or incented to slaughter them in pursuit of the greater good.

If Novell suddenly happened upon the ultimate advertising campaign, all of the underlying issues within the organization - the self defeating corporate architecture that has been built there over years and years, the lack of communication, direction, and ability to execute - would come sharply into focus.


I've no doubt that Novell is committed to keeping GroupWise around for a long time, because tens of millions of seats renewing each year pay a lot of bills. I'm also excited to hear that consultants are replacing Exchange with GroupWise. My fear is that without a significant series of changes at Novell, none of that will matter.

Novell's problem is that they are no good at engaging medium-to-large companies as strategic partners. As others have noted, Novell is great at developing products that allow IT groups to spend less time on tactical activities - once these solutions are in place, there's very little on-going sales opportunities. To be a strategic partner, you need to be able to provide simple, effective, solutions that add value, not just help to avoid costs. ZENworks is primarily a cost avoidance investment -
it doesn't make duties disappear, it just makes them vastly simpler and less
expensive to perform. To a large extent NetWare was kind of in this boat -
you could perform the same duties for a larger number of users, with fewer IT
staff (or in less time). Cost avoidance.

GroupWise could be a strategic platform for companies, but neither Novell or any other third party have been effective at developing applications that meet the "strategic" test. The fault for this situation can be widely dispersed, but Novell doesn't make money by finding fault or assigning blame. GroupWise could and should be the foundation for document management, workflow, intranet publishing, knowledgebases, customer self-service, etc. All of these things add value, because they make non-IT employees (e.g. the business) more efficient. They are all, therefore, strategic. And yes, I know that GroupWise has a DMS capability. However, if it's something that two former consultants, a CNI, and a CNE can't get working reliably, it's too damned hard to use.

In all my years dealing with Novell, I've never seen or heard of anyone presenting GroupWise as the foundation for a BPM/re-engineering/intranet/document management strategy. I have sat through hour long demonstrations of nifty client features, while nary a word is spoken about back-end management. I've also sat through demos where every feature was positioned against Outlook.

For a person in my position (Manager of IT for a $1.5 Billion company), this kind of thing is maddening. "Better than Outlook / Exchange" is not the same as "great" or "exceptional". I don't use Outlook or Exchange. I don't care how great the client is. What can I do with this tool to provide a strategic benefit to my company? I will immediately take issue to anyone who argues that this is forefront in Novell's marketing strategy, because we have challenged Novell's sales and SE teams for years to differentiate themselves - they have failed at every opportunity.

For Novell to be relevant, they need to be able to sell themselves as strategic partners to VP's, SVP's, and CxO's. Nobody in the boardroom cares how nifty the client is, how many seats you've sold, or the cool indexing features in the DMS system. Companies don't have document indexing problems, they have business
problems. When Novell figures this out, discussions like this will be a
thing of the past."

I followed that commentary with the one below several days later, aimed at a Novell employee who still thought the onus for finding additional value with GroupWise in particular, lay outside Provo:

"As I've stated before, if Novell wants to become/remain relevant to larger enterprise organizations, they should be developing presentation decks right now titled "Improving Business Processes with GroupWise", or "Enterprise Strategies for GroupWise Document Management".

Novell has continually barraged customers with product features, leaving it to them to figure out how best to implement them. All around you, competitors sell lesser products as point solutions, with the added benefit of re-use for other purposes. If you're relying on the channel to be the "value add" part of the equation to large enterprises, you're kidding yourself. My company, like many others, doesn't deal with the channel because they rarely ever truly add value. Looking at revenues, etc., I think the question "How's that working for you?" is valid here.

One of the most significant sacred cows in Provo wears a nametag called "Channel Partners". Slaughter it, butcher it, and serve a big steak lunch in the quad behind Building H. When everyone's done eating, go back and figure out how to sell your products as value adds / strategic assets to companies yourselves."

In response to this, I was told by that Novell employee that the "channel program" probably isn't going away, because Novell has too many smaller customers to sell to directly. It will however be changed significantly. I was told, however, that the team responsible for marketing GroupWise is definitely focused on selling it in the form of point solutions.

My reply:

"...please know that I wasn't advocating Novell sell directly to every customer, but that you not rely on the channel to make your value propositions to large enterprise customers (as has been done for some time). As a former employee, the argument I heard against this wasn't the size of sales force required, but that acting in this way would alienate channel partners. I found this to be alarmist and
unfounded - companies like mine have always dealt with Novell sales directly.

We've not seen GroupWise effectively positioned as much more than a mail product. It's issues like this I'm interested in seeing fixed - not only for myself, but for the health of Novell as a company."

It's amazing to me how much Novell professes to care about and invest in GroupWise, given how little they do to reduce adoption barriers in large enterprises. This problem isn't GroupWise product-specific though - it's pervasive throughout the company. I certainly hope that changes...soon.

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