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.
How does it stack up against IBM with its Smarter Planet campaign, its unification of its hardware systems from mainframes through x86 servers, and its extraordinary investments in the IT business of the future: predictive analytics?
How does it stack up against Oracle's vision of massively engineered systems driven by optimized hardware and software combinations, a totally new and fresh approach that has led to the creation of what the company calls "the most successful product launch" in the its history with an annual revenue run rate of $1.5 billion after less than two years on the market?
How does it stack up against SAP's promise of delivering real-time transactional and analytical information "from the corner office to the shop floor" with a primary emphasis on the booming range of mobile devices that are completely disrupting how business is conducted around the globe?
How does it stack up against even Microsoft, a company that has totally remade itself for and publicly committed itself to the emerging world of cloud computing?
In my opinion, it doesn't stack up nearly as well as it needs to if HP wants to retain its position as the largest IT company in the world. Because while HP has an enormously broad product line, the key in today's IT industry is not so much the range or breadth of the stuff you have but rather the way you combine and deploy all that in innovative ways to deliver to CIOs and their enterprises capabilities they've never had before.
The $130-billion gamble in which HP is currently engaged is all about that: how can HP present and package its expansive technologies in ways that anticipate and meet customers' emerging needs? How can HP help its customers move as fast as their customers' customers move?
How can HP demonstrate to the world that its true value is in the transformative potential of its vision and knowledge, which are served by rather than led by its massive product lineup?
If HP's current execs and its new CEO can quickly and persuasively answer that last question and the other related ones, they'll have won their $130-billion gamble. If they don't, then they'll be consigning themselves to a nice and steady but unspectacular future as a big second-tier tactical supplier of high-volume stuff to customers who rely mostly on other IT companies—the ones with vision—to help those customers change their worlds.