DALLAS: As would be expected for a company tracing its roots back to 1873 – typewriters and adding machines – Unisys has gone through tremendous changes over the last 141 years, and while it appears to be struggling now, it is not without its successes. For instance, its customers include:
-10 of the top 15 banks globally (and $3 trillion daily in interbank transactions);
-15 of the top 25 airlines (and more than 200 airlines in total);
-more than 100 airports;
-25% of all air cargo;
-10 of the top insurance companies;
-more than 300 government agencies;
-more than 50% of U.S. citizens’ law enforcement messaging;
-more than 11 million health and services transactions; and,
-150 million users of its voice solutions.
Then there are the vendors participating in Universe 2014, including EMC, VMware, Microsoft, Intel, Oracle, Dell, SAP and NetApp. In fact both SAP and NetApp made fairly significant joint announcements with Unisys this week.
However, despite its storied history, long list of clients and partnerships with leaders of the IT industry, Unisys has been struggling almost since the Burroughs-Sperry merger back in 1986. Revenues have dropped from more than $10 billion to just $3.5 billion, and it has been reporting losses for most of the last few quarters. And now it is looking for a new president, having just decided to show CEO and Chairman Ed Coleman the door, effective December 1.
A number of analysts have been bullish about the company’s products, services and prospects. During the conference I spoke with customers, partners and Unisys executives. In general, the customers seemed a little concerned, and perhaps confused about where the company is going. Several of the partners also expressed reservations, although some were also optimistic about the company’s prospects.
The theme of this year’s event is “Exploring Solutions for the Mission Critical Enterprise”, and it was a consistent message from the company execs I spoke with. My briefers included: Dan Huberty, CTO and VP Portfolio and Solutions Management; Jim Thompson, Chief Engineer and VP Engineering and Supply Chain; Colin Lacey, VP, Infrastructure and Cloud Solutions, Enterprise Services; Darren McGrath, Global Director, Unisys Mobility Solutions; and Nick Evans, VP & GM, CTO Office. Here’s a little of what they had to say about where Unisys is, and where it wants to go.
Who is Unisys?
Huberty: “We are focused on business outcomes”.
Evans identified three areas of Unisys strength: “Unisys is known for mission-critical computing, that’s our heritage.” It used to be that mission critical applications represented 10% of the workloads, but “now with the consumerziation of IT and SmartStack, everything has to be mission critical!”
Focused on disruptive technologies like cloud, mobile, analytics and social, he highlighted two other areas, innovation and security. “We focus on innovation… but bringing them into our portfolio.”
“We’ve really made these disruptive technologies a core part of our product offerings.”
“Security has been a big part of Unisys heritage over the years.” The company does very large implementations on a national scale, and is also heavy into biometrics, he said.
McGrath: “We’re kind of leading the pack…We’re focused on providing a complete solution to our customers.”
The company has a number Centers of Excellence globally to address specific markets and geographies, i.e. Federal Systems and Application Modernization, he said.
“You really have to think about uses. Uses has really evolved to what we call mission critical.”
“We’re not just about the back end, but about the front end.”
Who does Unisys want to be?
Huberty: One of the challenges the company is hearing from customers is how do you improve end user engagement? “Unisys is going to make it as simple as the Amazon retail model, make it simple [for the services business].”
“We’re going to get there, because we’re doing it right now.”
There are a number of customer pain points with IT Service Management, starting with costs, but including customer satisfaction, finding new ways to deliver services, and, moving from request management to fulfilling orders. He said ITSM vendors are not achieving the business case, the cost savings, and their credibility is at issue.
“Clients are looking for cost savings, and haven’t been seeing them with ITSM. We say that takes analytics.”
Thompson: He thinks Big Data is still misunderstood. “More people talking are about Big Data than weaponizing Big Data.”
There is a lot of information that is being ignored. “I think that data is horribly underused.”
Engaging with Big Data requires infrastructure, and Unisys’ strategy is to drive that to the all x86 data center, and combine it with everything the company has been doing for the last 50 years on the mainframe. “That opens up a whole set of possibilities for Big Data”.
Lacey: Like virtualization a decade ago, everybody is talking about the cloud today, but you need a plan of action before you can actually start using the cloud, he said. “What apps are cloud ready… which applications go where… people are struggling with how to move their applications”. “Everything is possible… but the thing is what makes sense now…”
“The original conversation was all about cost, cost, cost. Today, the priority is different. It’s really about an integrated view, what can I shift to the cloud, and how can I build a hybrid cloud… how do I integrate my cloud and non-cloud activities. The conversation today is much more sophisticated.”
Clients are looking for a much bigger solution than pushing their workloads out into the cloud, he said. “If you’re pushing low-value assets to cloud just to save money, that’s not really going to drive transformation.”
McGrath: Mobile communications is another technology driving change, he said. Mobile is taking off but the way to conduct business is going to change dramatically over the next few years. “Everybody is going to be moving towards the digital workplace.”
“When we talk to banks, the whole process is under review”. A lot of the processes are still paper or PC-based. They need to gather all their information, store it appropriately, and make it available when talking to the customer.
How will Unisys get there?
Thompson: “There is a failure of imagination in the IT space today. The failure I’m talking about is the failure to leverage their business… how do I look at emerging technologies for the best effect.”
“Can people in the commercial space recognize that the key is can they get closer to the customer by enabling technology.”
Huberty said you can’t be all things to all people. You have to pick your spots, and your partners. “If you’re going to do provisioning and automating, you have to move to a software-defined data center.”
Evans: Unisys has a number of products designed to simplify IT and address more practical areas, including Edge, Forward, Stealth and Choreography. “Our services strategy is built around that. [the intersection of mission critical plus new technologies like SmartStack and Stealth.”
Thompson: “We’re heading to this magical space where technology has allowed us to reach the dream of utility computing”.
Between its heritage, technology, resources and customer base, Unisys has the potential to prosper as the IT industry goes through a period of intense change. The emergence of disruptive technologies are changing the rules for both vendors and customers, which could be very positive for the company, as long as it can stay ahead of the curve and not shoot itself in the process. Or get sold.
So the three things Unisys has to be concerned about are change, itself and others. Sounds like par for the course for every business.
DISCLAIMER: Unisys looked after airfare and hotel expenses for this event.