Wednesday, 05 June 2013 20:43

Novell decline arrested, says Attachmate chief Featured

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Two years after it acquired Novell and took the company private, the Attachmate Group says its decline has been arrested. It anticipates being able to hold that line next year.

Jeff Hawn, president and chief executive of the group, told iTWire on Wednesday that the Novell brand had lost its lustre by the time Attachmate acquired it.

"I'd say this: we have arrested the decline. When we took over Novell, we kind of broke it into three parts, we pulled SUSE out. That's grown very rapidly; before it was shrinking. We culled out the identity, security and data centre assets and moved those to NetIQ. Those were also shrinking, and are now growing."

Hawn was in Melbourne on Wednesday to speak at the annual Brainshare Forum which is making the rounds; it was held in the US in February, in China before it came to Australia, and then moves to New Zealand for a day. Sessions in India are scheduled to be held in July.

The Attachment Group is a private held enterprise software holding company. Its principal holdings include Attachmate, NetIQ, Novell and SUSE.

Asked why the group preferred private companies, Hawn (pictured above) said: "If you are a publicly traded company, you have got two constituencies. You have your customers and you have got to do things that matter to them. You also have the Wall Street analysts, I wouldn't say shareholders, so much as analysts, that follow the stock. You have to tell stories, not that I mean false stuff, you have to tell stories about growth, about excitement, why you ought to get excited about the stock.

"And from a privately held standpoint, it's much easier to focus on one constituency. We focus now on things that matter to the customer. When you are a publicly traded company, there's a lot of things that Wall Street analysts find very exciting that don't matter to customers at all.

"When we took over Novell, when we took over NetIQ before that, we divided things into two buckets: there's a bucket of projects that are very important to customers and we spend more money on those. We've got more engineers to work with those, more support people, we release more maintenance releases, new releases and the like.

"In this big bucket of projects, if it's not important to the customers, it's unlikely to be ever important to us. But somebody on Wall Street may like it and they start talking about your stock."

When it was pointed out that this probably a very European way of thinking, Hawn smiled.

"I lived in Europe for quite some time so maybe that's by design," he responded. "I was with McKinsey, we lived in Germany, spent a lot of time in the UK. And again, nearly half of our revenues come from outside the US. So, no apologies if we've got a little more European, Asian thinking than typical American thinking."

Asked about the parts of Novell that were jettisoned when Attachmate took over, Hawn said in the case of Mono it had a very small number of loyal customers, all primarily in the gaming sector.

Mono is a project started in 2002 by the co-founder of the GNOME Desktop project, Miguel de Icaza, to replicate parts of Microsoft's .NET development environment as an open source effort. De Icaza became a vice-president at Novell when his company, Ximian, was bought by Novell in August 2003.

Hawn said: "We could not ever get comfortable that it (Mono) was going to be important to our enterprise customers. And when I say enterprise, I mean the largest commercial and government entities in the world. And two, it was a big consumer of resources. So I would rather use those resources on the SUSE story.

"If you were at SUSECON (the annual conference held by SUSE Linux, which was part of Novell and is now run as an independent private business unit in Nuremberg, Germany), you would know that  last year the SUSE business grew very rapidly. It had been declining when we took over. I think it was the right thing to do."

At SUSECON last year, the SUSE president and general manager, Nils Brauckmann, gave an insight into how the company was progressing. The figures he released showed a sharp increase in growth since SUSE went private.

Asked about how Novell itself was faring after the takeover, Hawn said: "With respect to what remains in Novell, we have slowed the rate of decline, we've built a number of new products, and so we are anticipating that this year we will be able to hold that line and then begin to grow."

He said the reason why Novell was not seen in the media much any more was because, "what we found is that marketing and PR to our customers is more effective than just kinda general broad-based TV advertising, banner ads and the like. What we have done is geared our marketing, PR and publicity efforts to our 48,000 customers around the world. They already know us, we want them to know us better. We think that that is a better use of a limited amount of resources."

Hawn said he believed the approach taken by Attachmate was working. "I would say that it has worked very well. I'm a big believer in the saying that we take small steps and the path will illuminate and by that I mean we'll continue to adjust and calibrate as situations change and as needs dictate.

"The lustre of the Novell brand had faded (by the time we acquired it) and as a result it was a very easy decision for me to peel SUSE off. SUSE is a great brand, it got buried inside Novell. And NetIQ is a great brand for data centres and security management, it has some great assets."

Asked about the Microsoft deal, signed by Novell in 2006, which invited much criticism, Hawn said: "That's where the judo method of business, of going with the natural momentum, comes in. There are a lot of customers out there who want to do business with Microsoft. And if there's an opportunity for us to get out to some of those customers, we will take it. We renewed the deal on terms that were favourable."

When it was pointed out to Hawn that his approach to business did not sit comfortably with his origins - he is from Texas, a state that is avowedly Republican - he had a chuckle. "I don't tend to think in political terms when it relates to business," he replied.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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