Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Compuware CEO: Burning the house down, startup style

With technology advancing at the speed of light, many businesses have been brought to a standstill. Christopher O’Malley, Compuware CEO, tells João Marques Lima of his experience in rejuvenating the mainframe giant.

With a startup background, when walking through the doors of Compuware’s HQ in downtown Detroit, US, in December 2014, 54-year-old O’Malley soon realised the lack of excitement amongst the workforce caught in a declining innovation cycle.

“What got me excited about actually taking the opportunity was the fact that Compuware was kind of a beaten up company,” he said.

“There was revenue decline, it kind of lost its way, the team itself was apathetic, they were just so accustomed with ongoing reductions in force, seemingly every quarter. It was a job for them, and a job that just felt constantly at risk.”

In the middle of the storm, there were however some positive signs that change was possible in a company founded back in 1973.

“What Compuware did have was an enviable customer base and it always had the best products in the area that it covers [mainframes]. “If you think about competing in the digital age, it is all about development.”


Incredibly Aggressive

Employees gather at Compuware’s HQ in Detroit. Source: Compuware

With the problems and eventual solutions identified, O’Malley decided it was time to “go in incredibly aggressive, like a startup CEO would but at scale”.

“You have to accept the fact that change is constant. Very quickly I came in with a very aggressive vision.

“If you can teach staff a lesson of attitude with a really crystal-clear vision, you challenge the apathy.”

In addition to challenging the staff’s apathy, the CEO carried out a deep analysis into the company’s history and customer relations to find pain points blocking growth.

He went through a “lengthy list of complaints” from customers, support logs and field data that he had collected.

The next step? “I threw it in their [staff’s] face: you are not that good.” Having given his company a wakeup call, O’Malley started his next phase of Compuware’s regeneration.


‘Promise Like A Startup CEO Would’

Compuware’s mainframe business. Source: Compuware

Sticking to the startup approach, O’Malley said it was then time to make “a huge promise like a startup CEO would”.

He set out the idea of retooling everything, turn to DevOps, mainframe, and become agile. “People laughed,” he said.

“In order to force the company to move, I promised the market that on the first business day of every quarter we would come out with new capabilities, advancements to our classic offerings and then we will do integrations with preferred DevOps tools vendors and products.”

With the mainframe market usually used to an 18-month production cycle, reducing that timeframe to 90 days was a risky decision.

However, O’Malley justified it saying that he had to do that to get the company to move and give his workforce a goal that got them out of their comfort zone and forced every process that they used to break.

“Nothing that we did worked on a 90-day clock cycle. Basically, I started to burn the house down.

“What people do not understand is that these companies have a lot of strength; they are not as fragile as people think.

“People use excuses that somebody cannot go that fast, you cannot push them that hard. But I started a startup and most of the people that worked there were 23 years old and they were working 18 hours a day.

“People will work hard if they are inspired, if they believe in something and if the vision is clear and they understand their contribution.”


Calm After The Storm

Compuware’s board meeting. Source: Compuware

Having put into practice Compuware’s most ambitious roadmap to work, O’Malley recognised the outset was shaking a lot at the beginning, “but we landed the first release in 90 days”.

“And we did it again 90 days later, and we went from forty years of waterfall to no waterfall at all.

“We had not come out with products since 1999 and now we have done it nine quarters in a row. And it is not like people are working 20 hours a day, but the intensity is much higher.

“You just need that constant reaffirmation of the fact that what we are doing is taking the company to different, better places.”


This article originally appeared in the Data Economy magazine. To read more on data centres, cloud and data, visit here