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3/15/2011
03:43 PM
Doug Henschen
Doug Henschen
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Is There Enough Software To Knit HP's Strategy Together?

The short answer is no, but with a few deeper partnerships and key acquisitions, it could become much more than the sum of its parts.

Throughout Monday's hours-long HP Summit, in which CEO Leo Apotheker and his top lieutenants laid out the company's grand strategy, executives repeatedly challenged, "Who is better positioned than HP to execute on this strategy?" When it comes to software, several other companies come to mind.

IBM and Oracle, for instance, will counter the broadest ambitions of Hewlett-Packard's enterprise strategy, and plenty of segment players, such as Apple, EMC, and Teradata, will blunt narrower ones. And even HP's partners might not be supportive of, say, the cloud and WebOS ecosystems it's now building. Microsoft, for example, has its own hybrid cloud strategy, and how could it view WebOS as anything other than a threat to Windows?

If HP is to be greater than the sum of its parts, as CEO Leo Apotheker vowed it would become, software will have to knit together the pieces, which he acknowledged to be more like silos within the company today. HP does have software in several important areas, but on some fronts it's overselling what it has, promising to develop or acquire what it needs, or hoping partnerships will suffice.

Here's a look at the software strengths and gaps in HP's grand strategy.

Consumer Innovation

When HP executives asked “who better than HP?” they were alluding mainly to HP's unique position of having big feet in both the consumer and enterprise worlds. The company ships two PCs and two printers every second and four servers every minute, Todd Bradley, executive VP of HP's Personal Systems Group, pointed out, and all HP PCs, tablets, and phones will soon ship with HP's WebOS operating system to the tune of 100 million devices per year.

Apotheker said it's crucial to bring consumer innovation to the enterprise environment, and he also observed that "if there is a better answer than enterprise-supported solutions, [business people] will use it." But how, exactly, will WebOS knit together HP's consumer and enterprise businesses? Is it about out-cooling Apple in the consumer domain, or is it about delivering corporate-issue devices that are cool enough to also be used for more personal needs?

Sexier products can't hurt when it comes to a business or consumer hardware buying decision, but the real question is, can HP's promised combination of the consumer app store and a cloud-based enterprise application and service catalog -- the software -- bridge the two domains?

Asked about the WebOS "app gap" versus Apple and Android, Apotheker said it's not the number of applications that matters so much as their quality and impact. "One of the things we're focusing on now, as we're getting to roll out WebOS on a massive scale, is to make sure that we have the relevant enterprise applications," Apotheker said.

Relevant enterprise applications might include personal productivity apps, ERP, CRM, and so on. But is Microsoft, for one, likely to port Office and SharePoint and Dynamics enterprise apps over to WebOS? (I recently wrote that Microsoft should port these apps to iPhone/iPad; and perhaps if Windows Phone 7 fails Microsoft would swallow its pride and port to WebOS as well.) SAP will likely add a WebOS app, but what about Salesforce.com and other enterprise app vendors with no particular allegiance to HP?

Bottom line: Consumer-to -enterprise synergies have yet to be proven.

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