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Commentary

Global CIO: Are Oracle, HP, Cisco & IBM Too Big To Innovate?

They're great at acquiring aggressively and generating huge cash positions—but do those translate into customer-focused innovation? We hand out report cards for each.
Overall Grade for Microsoft: B+

HP CEO Mark Hurd has made HP the biggest IT company in the world, has reinvigorated its financial condition, and restored an emphasis on performance and market focus. The company's challenge include how to appropriately straddle the dual positions of being the world's biggest PC company, and one of the world's biggest strategic partners for CIOs.

--EDS/Services Early on at the company's recent annual meeting, Hurd showed a slide revealing how HP's profit makeup has shifted dramatically in the past 5 years: from 80+% coming from its printing and imaging group several years ago, to today's new profit blend topped by 38% coming from services, primarily EDS. Infrastructure and great products are now and will continue to be extremely important, but services have become an even bigger differentiator for CIOs as they seek to help transform their own businesses. Grade: A

--The Infrastructure Company: That's a label Hurd hung on his company about six months ago as he stressed how HP, with its "converged infrastructure" strategy plus its management-oriented software business, was in a league of its own in providing end-to-end technology to CIOs. It all looks terrific—until you notice the glaring gap in the red-hot sub-PC market.Grade: B-

--The Cisco Challenge: This one is tricky: if Hurd can keep the focus here on outperforming at the customer level and winning CIOs' hearts and wallets, rather than getting into potentially disastrous sideshows with Cisco over who's got the biggest and coolest products, HP's software and services capabilities can be a huge advantage. If not, Cisco's superior sense of seizing dramatic market transitions will carry the day. Based on progress to date (and buttressed by 3Com acquisition): Grade: B

--Overall: HP's the biggest, but what is all that bigness really about when it comes to imparting maximum value to CIOs? Is it just about vast product lines? Supply-chain execution? Infrastructure? No, it's got to be more than that—and Hurd's next big challenge is to craft for HP a brand expression that reveals the overarching customer value the company delivers. Overall Grade: B

Cisco During the global downturn of the past 18-24 months, Cisco nearly matched Oracle's acquisition pace of one per month and appears dead-set on becoming a force in the consumer world as well as in the enterprise. That's fine and dandy, *provided* Cisco doesn't lose sight of or focus upn what CIOs want and need along the way.

--Video/Telepresence: It's not just a surging market, it's one that also is giving Cisco's customers huge opportunities to create new products and services of their own and to engage more intimately with customers. A dead-center-perfect bulls-eye that's given Cisco a huge image boost as well. Grade: A

--Unified Computing System: It sure delivered a jolt to the world when Cisco shed its networking skin and became a full-line provider of IT hardware, and it certainly shook up some long-standing relationships with HP and other key traditional partners. But beyond the early wow factor, is UCS capturing the fancy of CIOs and customer-side CEOs? Are the folks who make the big-ticket purchasing decisions eager to test out Cisco's end-to-end computing architecture, or would they still prefer to see Cisco stick to its networking specialty? Grade: C

--Cisco Everywhere: My colleague Alex Wolfe says Cisco wants to use its new "borderless networks" theme as a way to capture a consumer-side image along the lines of what Intel had with its "Intel Inside" campaign in years gone by. If the company can pull it off and become more of a household word, great; but with so many parts moving at Cisco at all times, that''ll be a particularly challenging task to achieve—see the UCS item above as a reminder. Grade: B-.

--Overall: CEO John Chambers appears more energized and enthused than he's ever been, and his extraordinary track record is hard to argue with. The biggest challenge is the sheer scale at which Cisco's now operating and its parallel insistence on rewiring that proverbial 747 as it's in flight with more acquisitions, a consumer thrust, dashed partnerships, new products, global expansion, and much more. Overall Grade: B

IBM tops the roll with an A- and that's due in large part to its packaging of everything it does within the "smarter" theme and campaign. That slogan doesn't make IBM's products any better, but that's not the point of this analysis: rather, we set out to see which of these massive IT suppliers is doing the best job at driving customer-centric innovation. And IBM's "smarter" theme gives it a common message through which it can consistently and logically impart to CIOs the world over the business value of its products, services, and strategies.

Acquisitions and cash are more essential than ever before, to be sure, but sometimes we surely do underestimate the enduring power of superbly coordinated execution around a common theme, supported by straightforward and clear communication.

RECOMMENDED READING:

Global CIO: Why Oracle's Earnings Will Improve With Sun

Global CIO: Oracle Challenges IBM, NetApp, And—Well—Everyone

Global CIO: Oracle's Incredible Profit Machine: 22% Maintenance Fees

Global CIO: Oracle CEO Larry Ellison On The Future Of IT

Global CIO: IBM CEO Palmisano Challenges IT Industry Via Smarter Planet

Global CIO: IBM Claims Hardware Supremacy And Calls Out HP's Hurd

Global CIO: Ballmer's Cloud Commitment Makes Microsoft Relevant Again

Global CIO: Why Hewlett-Packard Must Articulate Its Enterprise Strategy

Global CIO: Hewlett-Packard CEO Hurd Shifts Strategy Toward Services

Global CIO: Hewlett-Packard CEO Hurd's Strategy: The Infrastructure Company

Global CIO: Cisco TelePresence Shaping Next-Gen Hotels

GlobalCIO Bob Evans is senior VP and director of InformationWeek's Global CIO unit.

To find out more about Bob Evans, please visit his page.

For more Global CIO perspectives, check out Global CIO,
or write to Bob at [email protected].