IW500: HP Chairman Defends Strategy Shifts
Ray Lane takes shots at Oracle, Microsoft, and Android while clarifying the company's mobile and information management plans.
That much should have been clear in August when HP announced it would attempt to spin out its PC business and acquire enterprise software vendor Autonomy. Appearing at this week's InformationWeek 500 Conference in Dana Point, Calif., HP Chairman Ray Lane and Chief Technology Strategy Officer Shane Robison both acknowledged that the company had done such a poor job of communicating those moves and that many customers were left confused.
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Lane and Robison did their best to reassure the more than 400 CIOs and other top IT executives in attendance at the event that HP remains a reliable, predictable enterprise partner that is investing heavily in its server, storage, and networking businesses. At the same time, Lane made it clear that the software transition is necessary.
"Predictability is important, but technology companies that just keep doing what they are doing die," Lane said. "You have to keep changing, and that's uniquely important in the technology business."
Putting HP's transition into a competitive context, Lane said it will be easier for HP to move more deeply into information management software--the motive behind the still-to-be-completed Autonomy acquisition--than it will be for Oracle to succeed in hardware in the wake of its acquisition of Sun. That transition "is much more dangerous," he said, because "they acquired a flagging server company and they're trying to use the clout of their database to tell customers what to do."
In another comparison, Lane said Microsoft has not changed fast enough because it has relied for too long on the clout of its Windows and Office platforms.
Explaining HP's apparent about-face on the mobile market, Lane was candid in saying that HP's TouchPad tablet was "a generation behind" the iPad. He added that "the Koreans are going to be really good at the hardware, and Apple is more worried about them than they are us."
By separating the webOS mobile operating system from the hardware business, Lane said HP will be able to take advantage of what he described as "the best platform in the world" for commercial application development. "You cannot develop serious, portable applications on Android," Lane said, noting that the Web app development platform behind webOS can port applications to Andoid, Apple iOS, or Windows as well as webOS.
How can HP take advantage of webOS if it's not used on any smartphones or tablets? Robison said HP is in discussion with partners and that it intends to give webOS and its Web app development environment a life of its own as a platform for the industry. "It provides a common platform on which you can develop applications and deploy them on any operating system of choice," he said.
Of course the new news that may have changed the prospects for webOS is Google's recent acquisition of Motorola. Reading between the lines of what Lane and Robison had to say, it's easy to guess that HP is looking to license the mobile operating platform to the likes of Samsung, HTC, and possibly others.
Lane's clear and candid remarks were reassuring to many HP customers at the event, but it was hard to overcome the fact that HPs plans have many dependencies. Can HP find a way to spin out its $40 billion consumer PC business? Do mobile hardware vendors really need another operating-system option (other than Android and Windows) to compete against Apple? Will the Autonomy acquisition go through, and will it make HP that much more compelling and profitable as an information management software provider? All of these questions have yet to be answered.
At one point, Lane inadvertently made a better case for Salesforce.com than he could muster for an HP in transition when he brought up Kenandy, a software-as-a-service startup that's being funded by the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, where Lane is managing partner. Kenandy has built its software on Salesforce.com's Force.com development platform.
"Today, speed and the ability to make use of information is quickly, so CIOs have to get things in place quickly," Lane said. "If you look at Saleforce.com as just a CRM system, maybe it doesn't delivery everything you need in the enterprise, but it's fast."
Lane's case in point was Kenandy's first customer, which was able to get 75 users up and running "within two weeks on a full-blown, production system," Lane said.
HP, too, has a cloud strategy and is talking about agility, but I'm guessing Lane would be hard pressed to come up with an equally compelling example of such a rapid, enterprise-level deployment enabled by HP.
Once again, we'll have to wait to see if HP can transform itself.
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