Making HP Matter

It’s perhaps odd that I chose the title I did for this blog. Obviously it’s a none-too-obscure play on words to HP’s current "Make it Matter" tagline….but it’s also an acknowledgement that even this $100+BN behemoth has had to stretch for relevance for a few years. From a leadership perspective, HP didn’t matter much for a while (even though many wanted and willed it to)—or at least that was the perception; and that was also sad for a company founded on a DNA of innovation.

Last week’s HP Analyst Event was something of a coming out for a newly confident and assertive HP. The event had skipped a year—testimony to the rough ride that preceded it. But, boy, did it now feel different. Having been to this event a few times, I’m always struck, and reminded, of just how BIG and diverse HP is—everything from 3PAR to Moonshot servers, and from tablets with Beats audio to toner. But my realization hasn’t always been a positive one, indeed in past years ‘big’ has seemed corporately almost powerless, and self-justifying. This year—and I don’t think it was just Kool Aid in the water fountains—"big" felt powerful, and confident.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I think this starts at the top—both in terms of strategic direction and in terms of "the Meg" (single names seem to denote strong individuals). Meg Whitman came across as credible, smart, and committed. When she said she was "excited" and "I love this [proud] company," I thought it was heartfelt and not off the buzzword-bingo-teleprompter. She reaffirmed HP’s commitment to innovation ("it’s hard to kill founder DNA") while acknowledging the need to package and market things better; she addressed "churn at the top" but balanced it with a reminder of the "solid business foundation" ($120BN revenue and great cash flow). 2013 marks year two of a five year full recovery and transformation plan.

So, let’s just touch on a couple of specifics—all my HP Storage friends were thrilled that the first actual product Meg mentioned was 3PAR. But the leadership pitch was more about tone and direction than about the portfolio per se. The strategy was characterized as both driving and riding a tectonic (do I hear "tech-tonic" anyone!?) market change to “a new style of IT”…this is not HP’s doing in-and-of-itself but the move towards convergence (note my small c) seems perfect for a full service/systems vendor like HP. Talk of Converged (capital c now) Infrastructure was amplified by Dave Donatelli, both in the main tent session and again in the Enterprise break-out session. Again, there was balance – I think borne of renewed confidence rather than self-effacement - in the approach from Dave: While very upbeat about what’s round the [HP own IP] product-corner, he was clear that one of the most common retorts when he visits users is “I didn't know you did that....wow, that's cool...” His usual combination of boyish-enthusiasm and business-pugnacity came together in the ever-so-slightly bold statement that “HP is reinventing infrastructure.” To repeat myself, a few years ago that would’ve sounded like a groundless platitude; last week it sounded like simultaneously laying down a threat and a promise. And there’s evidence of progress too—150k VSAs out in the market, impressive jumps in 3PAR shipments, and over 100PB of flash shipped.

The positive tone and credibility (hugely helped by a compelling NDA-based peek around the product-corner by Martin Fink the CTO of HP Labs) were my big takeaway notes: both these things were palpable across all the HP folks I met with as well—there was a sense of belief to replace the sense of wandering (or should it be wondering?) from a couple of years back.

Now of course, from "belief" to "achievement" is not a short, easy hop. Just listening to some of the things that have been fixed (like how many sign-off signatures to get things done) gives an insight into the effort that it will take to turn this venerable ship fully around. And a cynic might say that the senior management team certainly reflected the DNA of the founders in rather too strong a middle-aged-white-guy sense! But I’m sure HP will take a bunch—whether it’s people or products—that delivers over a bunch that merely dreams every day of the week. That is how you make companies matter.

Topics: Storage IT Infrastructure