Neugents May Be Hot, but Sales Are Not
CarlHartman is positive his company is on to something big. Neugents ii, a solutionfor building real-time intelligent e-business applications, is the latestiteration of what some analysts believe is the best implementation of neuralnetwork software on the market.
The problemis making customers believe it, too.
Hartman,vice president for e-business management, says he and his fellow employees atComputer Associates (CA) aren’t complaining about the sales of the Neugentintelligence series at all. But when something is considered top-of-the-line inan industry, you would expect buyers to grab it until manufacturers cry uncle.
“We’repleased with the sales, but -- as with any product -- we’d love to sell a lotmore,” Hartman says. “What we’ve found is this kind of technology really goesto the core of what a particular business does. Sometimes that makes for somedifficult decisions. There’s something of a fear factor with a product thatreally gets involved in what people do.”
That fearis holding Neugents back, according to one industry analyst.
"Ifthey are satisfied with sales of their Neugents line, then expectations havebeen badly thought," says Paul Mason, an analyst at IDC. "It's notselling as well as it should because of lack of understanding of it in themarketplace. There's a lack of belief it will do what CA says it will do. Itjust hasn't been marketed well."
Maybethat's not so easy to do.
The natureof Neugents is to be an automated systems engineer that examines data sources forpatterns, both positive and negative. It is designed to disclose trends thatcan benefit a blueprint for success, as well as reveal potential problems. JoeBusinessman may be able to identify new markets with this information, or finda trouble spot in his computer system before it gives him trouble.
The initialrelease in the series was Unicenter TNG, an end-to-end IT enterprise managementsolutions package with varying options for Windows- or Unix-based systems. Thencame Jasmine II, an e-business platform powering personalized exchanges andportals. The Neugents ii release, also aimed at e-business, breaks down popularindividual features of the first two offerings, allowing end users to simplifyinstallation according to need.
Last month,CA release the Jasmine ii Portal, a solution designed to deliver personalized information from diverse sources invisual formats via the Web.
The windowdressing certainly looks interesting, but does it work as promised? GaryNicholson, CEO of KFx Inc.'s Pegasus Technologies, an environmental neural netcompany that works with CA to provide intelligence capabilities for systemsthat operate power plants, believes this is the next giant step in the computerfield.
"Peoplewho understand information technology know that every five years of so there'sa major leap forward with a concept that initially is difficult to grasp,"Nicholson says. "It's that way with knowledge capture technology. Butpeople who start applying it to their businesses won't have to wait long to seethe benefits of it."
Finding aneffective sales pitch has been the ongoing problem. As Hartman indicates, thepitch often must be tailored to a particular client’s needs. Neugents has beenaround for 18 months. Since neural network software isn't widely understood, CAoften winds up having to ask clients to reveal system secrets to close deals.
“We offer aservice called Express Discovery, where we go into a business for 30 or 60days, at a rate of $75,000 or $100,000,” Hartman says. “Essentially, we’re thereto prove this stuff works using their data, their systems. We prove to themthis isn’t magic, that it has a huge value. We’ve been very successful in doingthat.”
But that'sa tough way to do business on the scale CA is used to. Patrick Dryden, an industryanalyst at Illuminata, says the difficulty makes little sense.
“IToperations managers should have gobbled up Neugents as a way to preventproblems without having to find and keep scarce experts to baby-sit crankyrouters, application servers, databases, and other infrastructure components,”Dryden says. “But that hasn’t been the case.”
Dryden saysmany IT managers won’t be quick to trust some robotic intelligence expert overthe human kind. Dryden also points to some early marketing missteps by ComputerAssociates. Earlier releases were probably too diverse -- in terms of value tobusiness data analysis and IT management -- to be easily comprehended. Neugentsii begins to address that problem, Hartman believes.
“We’vefound it has a lot less resistance on the business side as opposed to the ITside,” Hartman says. “They say ‘If you can solve our worst nightmare, we’d liketo try it.’ We go in and show them how to do that.”
Hartman isconfident about the future of Neugents. He says CA is investing heavily inresearch and development to apply this technology to all of its solutions, andthe company is looking into building “intelli-kits” for business transactionsand other modes of packaging.
But fornow, it’s a matter of the industry catching up.
“The issueis everybody is so busy fighting fires, that managers tend to be reactive,”Hartman says. “This prevents the fires. Being that the Internet today haseveryone moving at warp speed, we’ll see more and more adoption of thistechnology in time.”
But Mason isn'tso sure.
"Ithink it would have a better chance if this were a one-product startup from outin left field somewhere," Mason says. "But it tends to get lost inall of CA's noise. I agree it wasn't marketed well initially -- early versionswere supposed to be turnkey NT products, and they didn't turn out that way.There are a lot of things to overcome here."
Computer Associates International Inc., Islandia, N.Y., www.ca.com
IDC,Framingham, Mass., www.idc.com
IlluminataInc., Nashua, N.H., www.illuminata.com
KFx Inc.,Denver, www.kfx.com