Hewlett-Packard is the world's largest IT company and on paper has it all: software, services, networks, printing, servers, PCs, netbooks, a mountain of cash, great partners, a sterling global brand, and strong leaders.
With all that going for it, HP should be a hog on ice: once that hog starts moving, good luck to anybody unfortunate enough to get in its way. But does HP have that status—has it earned it? HP's revenue is about 20% higher than IBM's—but is it regarded in the same class as IBM, let alone above it?
The challenge right now for HP is that the whole is not yet greater than the sum of its parts. For all of the operational-excellence strides Mark Hurd and his team have made, HP has yet to reveal an equally compelling externally facing strategy to the world: what is HP's core strength? What does HP do best?
Yes, it's got the sheer and enviable magnitude of monthly revenue of $10 billion—but what do HP's competitors fear, what do its customers love, and in what areas is it setting the standards that other tech companies must follow?
Hewlett-Packard's got all the pieces to become just about whatever kind of company CEO Hurd wants it to be, and while that vision has yet to be fully expressed, the imminent merging of its PC business with its printer business is a huge step in the right direction. Because while both of those product lines are massive and are among the top reasons why HP's annual revenue of about $120 billion tops that of any other IT company, PCs and printers are simply not going to serve as the strategic platforms that define HP's future and its enduring value to enterprise customers.
Being #1 in PC sales worldwide is a great achievement but it's just not the sort of story that will delight and excite CIOs the world over and turn them into HP zealots. And the absence of a clearly articulated counterpoint for the enterprise market is, I think, the core reason why a respected stock-picking firm (Zacks) has decided to hang a "Neutral" sign on HP.
Now, we can debate all night long whether CIOs place any value on the opinions of stock-pickers like Zacks when those CIOs are making decisions about strategic long-term IT partnerships and investments. For myself, I think CIOs surely look at such commentary and factor it in so that a bad rating will almost certainly keep a vendor off the list while a great rating inspires confidence about longevity, stability, enduring market power, and investments in innovation.
But a tag of "Neutral" on a company of HP's size, reputation, market stature, and depth? It comes from the analysts' lack of certainty about where HP's next round of growth—it's next round of greatness—is going to come from. It is, I think, a vision thing, centered on the company's lack of a clear expression of why you as CIO and your enterprise will be at a competitive disadvantage unless you are tied in deeply with HP because it has not only the stuff but also the strategy and the savvy and the plan and the deep market knowledge of where things are headed—the vision—to help you set yourself apart from competitors.
Here's why Zacks put the "Neutral" investment label on HP: