During a phone call a few days ago, The VAR Guy listened intently as Novell's VP of Global Channel Sales, Pat Bernard, described her four-point strategy to rebuild the company's partner organization. Although Novell faces an uphill climb in several areas, Bernard's experience in the enterprise software space could be a plus.

Now 90 days into her position as Novell's channel chief, Bernard has been evangelizing four key messages within the company and across the channel:

1. Novell will make partners profitable
2. Novell will invest in the growth of partners' businesses
3. Novell has vowed to enable partners with sales and tech support
4. Novell will create a partner-centric company

Bernard, a veteran of Hyperion, has a knack for sticking with simplified messages. She's also stealing a management page from former Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca, who set his business strategies around two goals: Hiring good people and setting priorities.

One big priority for Bernard is listening to partners. For instance, Novell will host its EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) partner advisory board during BrainShare, scheduled for March 16-21 in Salt Lake City, notes Bernard. Roughly 6,000 to 7,000 partners and customers are expected to attend the Novell conference. Roughly 30 EMEA partners will huddle with Novell behind closed doors to discuss the company's channel program.

It's good to hear that partners are still engaging with Novell. But let's be clear here: Bernard is working to correct about a decade of missteps or false starts within Novell's channel organization.

During its prime in the early 1990s -- call it Novell 1.0 -- the company had a robust channel organization and 60 percent server market share. Software, hardware and VAR partners eagerly displayed the "Yes" logo as a sign of their commitment and support to Novell NetWare. Then came Novell 2.0 -- the mid-1990s, which was highlighted by several failed software acquisitions like Unix Systems Labs and WordPerfect. Novell 3.0, according to The VAR Guy, involved a flawed consulting push built around 2001's Cambridge Technology Partners acquisition.

Novell Today

The VAR Guy posted a particularly harsh blog about Novell's business prospects last month, but softened his tone quite a bit after a follow-up discussion with Novell Chief Marketing Officer John Dragoon.

Bernard concedes that Novell's partner push is "a huge change management undertaking" on a global scale. "We're flipping the switch" back to a partner-oriented business model, she says.

But that's not to suggest that today's Novell -- company version 4.0 -- can leverage the old NetWare channel. The company's current product mix -- SuSE Linux, middleware, endpoint security and identity management -- requires a far different skill set than the old NetWare file-and-print days.

Still, Novell expects to leverage some of its legacy channel DNA. "A good percentage [of Novell's workforce] has been on board for quite a few years," says Bernard. "As with any company, you may have a few laggards and people who are resistant to change but I am impressed with how many people are ready to leverage our tribal knowledge."

Challenges Ahead

On the upside, Novell has some growth-oriented businesses that will certainly attract partners. But positioning Novell's individual products as complementary solutions could be challenging, The VAR Guy believes.

Dragoon makes a compelling case that Novell SuSE Linux benefits from the company's added focus on middleware, identity management and endpoint security. But many Linux VARs that are looking to move up the food chain are focused more intently on databases (MySQL, Oracle, EnterpriseDB, etc.) and applications (CRM, ERP, etc.) rather than niches like identity management.

Perhaps the most balanced coverage of Novell comes from this recent piece in BusinessWeek, which ultimately states the obvious: CEO Ron Hovsepian has cut costs and is a well-respected leader who has helped Novell to amass a war chest that's nearing $2 billion. But Novell needs to restore growth.

While Hovsepian focuses on possible acquisitions, Bernard should have her hands full rebuilding Novell's channel.