Is HP Serious About Its Software Business This Time? - InformationWeek

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Software // Enterprise Applications

Is HP Serious About Its Software Business This Time?

Driven by in-house development and acquisitions, it has a new plan to become a top-tier software vendor. It's worth a look.

In Boston last week, 2,400 Hewlett-Packard software salespeople braved the frigid weather for a boot camp of education and training. It was more like reprogramming. The message: HP is an enterprise software player, so it's time to start acting like one and storm the market with a united front instead of with a disparate collection of products.

HP needs to convince more than the sales staff. The company's history with software is marked by an erratic record of investments and divestments. The result? While HP is the world's largest tech company, with $92 billion in revenue last year, it's never gained much recognition in software beyond OpenView and HP-UX.

Hogan, pure software sales guy.

Hogan, pure software sales guy.
That may be about to change. The company is doing enough interesting things, in development and acquisitions, that the results could be different this time. For one, HP looks sure to do more acquisitions with its $16 billion cash horde. It bought more than 10 software companies in the three years leading up to the $4.5 billion deal for Mercury Interactive in November. Last week, it bought Bristol Technology, a small company that makes software to monitor customer transactions.

"We're open to doing software acquisitions like Bristol, or very large-scale, headline-grabbing acquisitions like Mercury," says senior VP Tom Hogan, who heads up HP Software. "We have the balance sheet and the cash to do either."

Hogan describes three pillars of the software group, any of which could be spurred by acquisitions. The most substantial is business technology optimization, or BTO. It includes OpenView for managing servers, PCs, and other IT infrastructure; and the Mercury software, for monitoring and testing application performance. The business information optimization, or BIO, unit is more fledgling, including an HP-developed data warehouse, Neoview, that the company will start marketing this spring. The third group is OpenCall, software for delivering voice, video, and data services. HP-UX is tied to the server hardware business.

Bristol, with its emphasis on monitoring whether customer transactions are on track, is being plunked into BTO with Mercury and OpenView, a unit with an annual revenue run rate of more than $2 billion. The recently acquired Knightsbridge Solutions, which specializes in business intelligence and data warehousing services, becomes part of BIO alongside the Neoview data warehouse, which HP is deploying internally but also selling against Teradata, IBM, and Oracle. It's this unit that will likely see the most action in terms of acquisitions, Hogan says. HP just opened a lab in St. Petersburg, Russia, to develop software for managing business information, but if HP wants to be a player, organic growth alone won't cut it.

Yet building by acquisitions is tricky. Just look at CA, a roughly $4 billion-a-year software company. It bolted on acquisition after acquisition until it stood for nothing but a hodgepodge of products. CEO John Swainson has brought a clearer focus--systems management, security, and storage--but the company was still scooting along at 4% sales growth last quarter. HP wants the same thing CA does: that coveted position as one of a customer's strategic software partners. It's tough to get. Kevin Frederick, director of technology at Roger Williams Medical Center, which uses HP storage systems, is curious but cautious. "In the tech arena, there's been a lot of companies going into new branches trying to create new revenue, and they don't quite make it all the way," he says.

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Can HP execute? Its software strategy has lacked direction. After acquiring middleware company Bluestone Software in 2000, for example, it created two product lines, OpenView and Netaction. In 2002, it divested Netaction after the Compaq merger, choosing to partner with Microsoft and BEA Systems. Software never seemed a top priority for former CEO Carly Fiorina.

Things are different now, says Hogan, a purebred software sales guy. Before joining HP a year ago, he was CEO of content management vendor Vignette. He headed up sales at Siebel Systems during a few of its finest years, and he sold software for 17 years at IBM. When CEO Mark Hurd first approached Hogan 18 months ago, "the discussion was, 'Tom, I'd like you to come help turn HP into one of the world's greatest software companies,'" recalls Hogan, who reports to executive VP Ann Livermore, head of HP's technology solutions group. In 12 months, the number of people in HP's software group has doubled, to 7,500 people.

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