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Australian Financial Review : October 17th 2006
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The Australian Financial Review www.afr.com Tuesday 17 October 2006 35 INFORMATION Noorda: RIP in the promised LAN Hands on Peter Moon '' At 58, Noorda bought a busted IT outfit and decided to network the corporate world.'' Time to pause this week and remember that high tech isn't just about the next big thing. It has a past, and a debt to it. So when an industry giant like Ray Noorda passes away, we're prepared to pay our respects. Noorda was Novell when Novell was networking. Before he took a controlling share in Novell Data Systems in 1982, the company was heading nowhere but to wind up, which would have seen the United States unemployment queue lengthen by just 17 bodies. By 1990, it was a world IT giant with more than 10,000 staff, energised by Noorda's pursuit of one proposition: that stable, affordable local-area networking would unlock the power of the personal computer. LAN ± local-area networking ± is an inherently flaky technology. It's a smash- up derby inside those cables. To create a data and device-sharing platform that was stable and cheap enough for mass corporate use, Noorda set his engineers to refining a protocol called IPX. Thirty-something network administrators of today sneer at this veteran technology, but it delivered accurate data quickly enough to allow inexpensive hardware to operate as a network. So Netware was born. A decade ago, Ray Noorda was just two years retired as Novell chief executive, with Netware dominating corporate networking like Windows owns the desktop today. For our part, we'll never forget the tingling feeling the first time we rigged up two DOS PCs to talk over a Netware wire. We don't keep a lot of tech mementos, but the flash red Novell box that we used with the Netware-installer disks that night is still on our bookshelf. The son of Dutch emigres, Noorda was five years old when Wall Street crashed in 1929. The rigours of the Depression left him, by all accounts, tough in dealing with tough guys and tender to the struggle of the ordinary Jill or Joe. He qualified as an electrical engineer, served out World War II in the navy and joined General Electric after war's end. In 21 years at GE, he cut his teeth on internal start-up projects, learning to guide fledgling businesses. Then, it was 12 years as a consultant corporate doctor. And this seems remarkable, that at 58 years, a comfortable consultant with retirement age within sight decided to buy a busted IT outfit and network the corporate world. There are stories of him babysitting for staff members and seeing job creation as more important than his personal wealth. And tales that he wouldn't travel business or first class. His son Brent quotes him as saying a company president is the guy who sticks around to empty the trash after everyone else has gone home. As far as we can tell from this distance, he was a genuinely humble man. Humble, not meek. He specialised in an aggressive strategy he called co-opetition. He argued that tech companies like Novell should co-operate with each other a lot of the time. By developing common, interoperable standards, the size of the IT cake would grow way beyond what would be on offer to a fragmented industry. And once co-operation had grown the cake, Novell would compete like fury for the biggest piece of it. That's co-opetition. In 1994, Noorda rolled the dice against Microsoft, buying WordPerfect and Borland's spreadsheet Quattro Pro. At the time he said it was about network-enhancing these office applications to further the growth of Netware. Perhaps, but Netware was already facing the unpleasant reality that Microsoft owned two out of three pieces of the jigsaw ± desktop operating system and office applications ± and was well-placed to add networking to its picture. That's what happened, and Netware has steadily declined in market share since. Novell eventually sold WordPerfect and hasn't landed a scoring blow on Microsoft since. But when Noorda yielded the helm at Novell in 1994, it was the second-biggest software house with close to $US2 billion ($2.7 billion) in turnover. In semi-retirement, Noorda returned to his roots, funding over 100 start-ups through his privately held Canopy Group. A devout Mormon, his philanthropic drive was expressed through foundations Angel Partners and Worth of a Soul. Thanks to Alzheimer's disease, he slipped out of the world by degrees until his death last Monday. Let's hope Ray Noorda has reached the promised LAN. Peter Moon is a Melbourne IT lawyer. firstname.lastname@example.org States look to joint tenders Mark Jones John Della Bosca says the state's buying power can stimulate innovation in technology. Photo: ROB HOMER KEY POINTS Disability equipment will be the test case for the new process. The states previously tried to solve the IT crisis together. Australian states, territories and the New Zealand government are developing a single, multi- state tender that could lead to more co-operation between the governments on technology contracts. Due in the first quarter of 2007, the tender will cover specialised disability equipment, including laptops and wheelchairs. NSW Minister for Commerce John Della Bosca said that governments needed to get smarter about procurement strategies to achieve economies of scale and cost savings. The disability tender would focus on equipment required by people with cerebral palsy. Mr Della Bosca told The Australian Financial Review he believed technology such as computers and mobile phones was considered to be stable, and the requirements similar across different governments and agencies, and that more thought was needed to consolidated purchasing agreements. ''What was once a magical technology is becoming as simple as switching on a light,'' he said. Mr Della Bosca said that with every state and territory on board, it was possible the tender would form the basis for considering whether intra- government tenders could be adopted for other technology procurement strategies. ''[However] we have to be certain we can make it work before we preach the gospel to everyone else,'' he said. It's not the first time the states have investigated intra- government technology initiatives. In June, a national skills summit was held on Queensland's Sunshine Coast to seek solutions to the issues surrounding Australia's chronic shortage of technology workers. The plan also taps into other key assumptions NSW has embedded into its perspective on the development of technology policies and its role within the government. The state is unlike other states such as Victoria, which has a dedicated Information and Communication Technology Minister, Marsha Thompson. Technology and communications policy is embedded into Mr Della Bosca's broad portfolio, which includes Commerce, Finance, Industrial Relations, Ageing, and Disability Services. ''IT is all-pervasive. Why would you therefore need to arrange that as a separate portfolio, potentially as a silo?'' he said. Mr Della Bosca said the government was working to avoid a situation where various industry development portfolios existed under different, isolated umbrellas. As such, technology industry development initiatives are largely driven by the NSW Department of State and Regional Development. Mr Della Bosca said the state believed its role as a service delivery vehicle could stimulate technology industry growth by making smart procurement decisions. Rather than adopt ''protectionist'' strategies to aid the growth of start-up Australian companies, he said, governments should look to adopt niche solutions wherever they may be found. He said smaller and medium- sized technology suppliers in Australia would continue to find it difficult to compete for large contracts that involved standardised technologies.