CA, the company formerly known as Computer Associates, is displaying all the characteristics of Hamlet. It is a company that can’t make up its mind.

Founded in 1976 as Computer Associates International, Inc., the company legally changed its corporate name to CA, Inc., in February 2006 while in the midst of a $2.2 billion fraud investigation that had dogged it for four years.

Explaining the name change at the time, CEO John Swainson said:

“CA is a changed company, but not an entirely new company. We’ve taken the strengths of the past and combined them with new initiatives, strategies and ideas to ensure CA is the clear industry leader in meeting the evolving information technology needs of customers.”

This week, four years on, the company announced it had changed it’s name again – this time to CA Technologies. Explaining this change, new CEO Bill McCracken, said:

“The name CA Technologies both acknowledges our past yet points to our future as a leader in delivering the technologies that will revolutionize the way IT powers business agility.”

Spot the difference?

While the latest statement does make reference to the current industry buzz-term “business agility”, the two statements are identical in their sentiment and intent. There is nothing to help us understand the logic of the addition of ‘technologies’ in the CA name.

Marianne Budnik, chief marketing officer, did add: “The brand and name change to CA Technologies was designed with insights from nearly 700 customers, partners and market thought leaders.”

It begs the question – insights into what, specifically? I would hazard a guess: CA hasn’t worked as a name. It was a hasty, myopic decision made at a time the company needed to distance itself from a debilitating scandal. CA was the easy choice, but the wrong choice. It just wasn’t thought through.

The pros and cons of initials as corporate names aside (more on this later), CA works visually when connected to the original name, Computer Associates, as in the amended logo introduced in 2001, shown above. Dropping the Computer Associates name from the logo was probably regarded as a minor adjustment. And as the internal rationale most likely went: competitors such as IBM, HP and BMC do just fine with initials, so why can’t we?

Well, disconnected from Computer Associates, CA becomes problematic for a number of reasons.

Unlike IBM, HP and BMC, ‘CA’ has no hard letter sounds. Consequently, CA it is not heard as two distinct initials, C and A. It is heard as ‘seeyay’.

Seeyay? Come again. Oh, you mean C and A, the old Computer Associates?

CA is nothing but a weak proxy for Computer Associates, a whiter shade of pale. It is too phonetically lightweight and nondescript as a name and simply not robust enough to acquire meaning of its own.

The other, not insignificant, problem – Google CA and up come pages of reference to California. CA means California first and foremost.

A new CEO brings in a new perspective. Bill McCracken decides change is necessary, and this time it will be based on research. Hence, the 700 insights Ms. Budnik mentioned. But they were probably given in response to a very specific question concerning the CA name, and very likely centering on preferences between modifiers, such as CA Software, CA Solutions and CA Technologies, etc.

Only in such a range of soft options could CA Technologies emerge as a winner. ‘Technologies’ is a verbal Band Aid and adds nothing other than a glottal stop to a very inadequate name.

Simpler options

This latest name change amounts to little more than fiddling around the problem, and in doing so CA creates another problem for itself.

In her statement, Ms. Budnik also said the name was “developed to ensure that we tell a consistent story in the market that reflects the full breadth and depth of what we offer.”

A redundant word in a name makes for inconsistency, not consistency. ‘Technologies’ is a such word. Lucent Technologies was always referred to just as Lucent, for example. No doubt CA Technologies will appear on things the company can control, such as corporate signage, stationery and collateral. But in all other cases it will be CA.  The company’s ticker symbol is still CA, it’s URL is still, and the company still defaults to CA in references to itself on its website. It will still be CA in headlines, analyst calls and in conversation. Where is the consistency?

Rather than finessing with the corporate name a simpler option would have been a tagline to anchor the name in some specificity for marketing purposes. EMC’s “Where information lives”, or GE’s “Imagination at work” are two of the better examples.

The better and braver option for Computer Associates would have been to change the name of the company in 2006 when it had reason and opportunity to, the accounting scandal apart. While Computer Associates’ success was built on mainframe software a different future beckons, one in which companies manage their technology in what the industry calls the “cloud.” The name should have claimed that future unequivocally.


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