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Global CIO: HP's $130-Billion Gamble

While HP's steeply calculated risk to hold its annual analysts' day without a CEO shows guts, it also lets IBM, Oracle, SAP, and Cisco to continue setting the IT agenda.

UPDATE: To read about HP's new CEO, please check out Global CIO: HP CEO Leo Apotheker Has Deep Expertise But Checkered History.

I'm not sure if Hewlett-Packard's decision to go forward with its highly influential annual analysts' day without having named a CEO was an act of inspired genius or an ill-conceived bluff designed to convince the world that HP is so big and so unified and in such demand that it can simply run on auto-pilot.

The assembled team of executives delivered a clear and consistent set of messages yesterday, and certainly the financial projections were reassuring.

Showing consistent revenue growth, promising renewed investments in R&D, and pledging to continue stripping out unnecessary costs, HP presented itself as confident, capable, and on-target.

Yet, I can't escape the feeling that HP—for all of that commendable and profitable execution—is hunkering down to fight tomorrow's wars with today's weapons. Despite her repeated emphases on the company's commitment to future growth through investments in R&D and innovation, CFO and interim CEO Cathie Lesjak focused her remarks on tactics: how billions of pages of content are moving to digital and how HP is prepared to capitalize on that; how the information explosion will double the volume of digital content every 18 months and how HP is prepared to capitalize on that; how vast pools of aging enterprise IT infrastructure will need to be replaced and how HP is prepared to capitalize on that; and how HP's got the biggest and broadest supply chain in the technology business, and how the company will capitalize on that.

Tactics are great and execution is indispensable, particularly in a global economy that is shifting so rapidly and in the high-change IT industry that is undergoing phenomenal transformations of its own.

But such a dynamic and turbulent environment—one in which the present races toward the future with no "time-outs" to play catch-up—also demands on top of that execution a strategic vision that animates how companies position themselves, how they express customer value in new ways, how they address new opportunities as they are occurring and not after the fact, and most of all how those companies recast themselves rapidly and fundamentally even as they're executing on current plans.

That's where HP's lack of a CEO is most apparent. That's why everyone at yesterday's analysts' day, while interested in the numbers, was much more interested in one question: who's the new CEO?

And that's why HP engaged in a serious bit of gambling yesterday by going ahead with the presentation of who they are and what they do and where they're headed without having a CEO to articulate clearly and persuasively that the whole of HP is not just greater than the sum of its parts, but that its more powerful and more capable and more strategic as well.

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And a heckuva lot more valuable to boot.

In the absence of that CEO, HP is stuck with this positioning statement: "HP creates new possibilities for technology to have a meaningful impact on people, businesses, governments and society." It's nice, it's upbeat, it's cheerful, it's politically correct—but is it relevant to a CIO who's trying to transform a transportation company? Does it represent the mission of an absolutely indispensable strategic IT partner?

Let me put it this way: how does it measure up against against the primary positions of IBM and SAP and Oracle and even Microsoft? Let's take a look:

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