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Stone takes Novell by the horns

Back at Novell after a three-year absence, newly appointed vice chairman Chris Stone has returned to the company like a whirlwind, overhauling the management team and shaking up employees with his do-or-die attitude. In the keynote address opening this year's BrainShare conference in Salt Lake City, Stone promised that even more big changes are in store for Novell and its customers. SearchNetworking spoke with him at the conference.

Back at Novell after a three-year absence, newly appointed vice chairman Chris Stone has returned to the company like a whirlwind, overhauling the management team and shaking up employees with his do-or-die attitude. In the keynote address opening this year's BrainShare conference in Salt Lake City, Stone promised that even more big changes are in store for Novell and its customers. SearchNetworking spoke with him at the conference.

The media is hailing your return to Novell as the miracle that will resurrect the company. How have your first two weeks on the job measured up to that expectation?
Stone: Well, I certainly don't want to create expectations that I can't fulfill, but I think we have seen an enormous amount of change in only two weeks. Whether it's in an attitude, or firing a whole bunch of people, or reorganizing, we are moving so fast that some people would argue it's too fast. But we're going to keep it up until we get it right. I'd say that the first two weeks have gone better than I expected. The changes we've made have gone faster, the acceptance of what I wanted to change has come faster, and the attitude of most of the employees has changed faster than I thought. So I'm actually quite amazed at the response.

You mentioned the management changes the company is making. What is the strategy behind that restructure, and what will it achieve?
Stone: The most common request we get from customers is the ability to integrate all of our products in their business with a single interface. That's our engineering goal for the coming year, and our company structure is going to support it. Until now, the company has been siloed in divisions that didn't talk to each other, and our products reflect that. We're going to change that by organizing and merging our products into horizontal solutions. On top of these, we'll be building business services that can be deployed across an entire corporation. We'll be restructuring our entire company around this model; even engineering will be structured according to business services.

There's obviously a lot of change going on as far as the business strategy. What about your technology vision; what do you plan to focus on in the near term?
Stone: We will be doing away with proprietary interfaces and moving to standard Web-based development platforms. As you know, we have this platform called eDirectory that sits on top of NetWare. Our goal is to continue up the food chain and build solutions on top of the directory. We also want to make sure that the interfaces that talk to the directory are based on a native XML format. Right now they're not; there are only proprietary ways we talk to our directory. Now, if I go in and try to sell a customer or prospect a solution -- and I'm not Microsoft -- I stand a snowball's chance in hell of getting them to buy a whole solution with our directory having no other way to plug anything else in. We've got to move to standard interfaces. That way whatever they're building using XML will plug in, and that way whatever application they're plugging in will utilize our services. That's the reason we've got to do it.

Whether it's in an attitude, or firing a whole bunch of people, or reorganizing, we are moving so fast that some people would argue it's too fast. But we're going to keep it up until we get it right.


You talked today about building business solutions and services that you'll market to CXO-level customers. Don?t you worry that placing so much emphasis on things like consulting and services will alienate long-time Novell users who see the company as a technology innovator?
Stone: No, not at all. Those long-time customers are just the people who are asking us to do this. Our users want us to market to their boss' boss' boss that we're serious about our business issues and that we're serious about this. They all know our stuff works. They need us to prove it to their management. We're not leaving them in the dust; they're our sales team.

In your keynote speech this morning, there was a lot of talk about going head-to-head with Microsoft. Do you really expect to be able to catch up with, or even overtake, Microsoft?
Stone: No. Our goal is to generate business and stop our flat to declining revenue and increase it. We want double-digit revenue increases by next year. We'll be rebuilding for the next six-plus months, building solutions and getting the house in order. Then I suspect, if we get things right, we should easily hit double digits for next year. We're not going to beat Microsoft. I just want to grow our business and our customers to be happy.

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