What’s in a Name?

When CA announced last week that it would drastically simplify product branding, our first reaction was, “What, are you crazy?”

It’s the latest in a spate of changes intended to demonstrate that this is not your father’s CA, and definitely not the one that blindly consumed companies for their maintenance streams and typically emphasized marketing over product development. Consequently, you’ll no longer see reruns of product names like “CA Unicenter TNG,” which modestly stood for “The Next Generation.”

A new decade and a major accounting scandal later, the company has been trying to shed that identity with a more focused acquisition strategy targeting, for the most part, startups that could add synergy and new IP to the company. It’s been the bright spot in what have been several years of financial pain.

And so the branding simplification could be viewed as the latest example of an effort to clarify just what CA is. So in the new CA, the CA Wily Introscope product, that monitors J2EE application performance, will probably be called something like CA Introscope, while CA Unicenter Service Desk will likely be renamed CA Service Desk.

But there are several risks. The first is that CA might wind up confusing its installed base, although in actuality, that risk will vary by product. For most of the recent acquisitions, such as startups like Wily Technologies that had brands that weren’t exactly indelible, the risk should be pretty low. For the well-established lines, like Unicenter or the IDMS legacy database, it might be another story.

The Unicenter case is especially interesting. Ingrained for 15 years as CA’s management framework for distributed systems, the unitary branding implied unitary product.

Under the new scheme of things, the Unicenter brand will be dropped. Sounds like a dumb move until you realize that, excluding IBM (which is retaining the Tivoli brand), each of CA’s major rivals are doing the same. For HP after the Mercury acquisition, it’s goodbye “OpenView,” hello “Business Technology Optimization,” and for BMC, it’s goodbye “Patrol,” hello “Business Service Management.”

(What’s even more amazing is that HP, Mercury, and CA – which uses the moniker “Business Service Optimization” – will now have brand names that sound like virtual clones of one another. Our first reaction was, couldn’t any of these guys come up with something more original and memorable? But we digress…)

Why are the systems management folks dropping the familiar brand names? One word: ITIL. With the ITIL framework stipulating use of a Configuration Management Database (CMDB), the prime result is that each vendor in this space is reengineering its products to incorporate one. More to the point, the emergence of the CMDB has revealed the ugly truth that systems management products have never been as unified as their common brandings implied – thereby rendering the old brand names rather meaningless.

Indeed, the real risk to CA is the degree of effort it must invest to change more than 1000 product names. In the wake of the announcement, it published a 34-page, single-spaced PDF listing the entire catalog, estimating it would take 12 – 18 months to change all the names. That’s a process that will soak up significant marketing resources to change websites, collaterals, and craft new campaigns. Maybe the new branding may help CA burnish its new identity, but given that the company’s earnings have remained fairly flat over the past year, is it an investment that it can afford?