I recently spent three days in Frankfurt attending HP’s European event, Discover. (Disclosure – HP contributed towards T&E for the event). Obviously the event was always going to be fascinating, coming as it did only a week or two after the bombshell around Autonomy and the large questions around both the amount HP paid for the business, and it’s future potential. To be honest I see the furore around Autonomy as little more than a side show – interesting for the peanut gallery but secondary to the real issue at hand which is how HP can create a consistent message across some 300000 employees and vast numbers of individual business units and SKUs.
If I had to summarize my thoughts on HP coming out of the event, it would be to say that it is a massive company, with an incredible existing market share and customer base and with some super smart people on board. However it is plagued by dual traits that don’t help it succeed:
Trying to be too smart for its own good. Day one of the show saw the attendant bloggers and analysts introduced to the term “polymorphic simplicity” a bewildering phrase that is neither elegant nor logical. Apparently it relates to the worthy aim of having a consistent architecture across a number of different storage products – so that there is a clear and consistent progression path as companies’ storage needs grow. The concept is eminently worthy, but rather than entering into a useful and productive discussion around the need to deliver consistency for storage customers, HP tried way too hard to be cutesy and introduce a new term to the world. When faced with the not-insignificant criticism of the term by the attendant pundits, rather than admit it was a mistake, the result of some over-thinking by some marketing wonks, the HP folks continued to try and ram the term down our throats. Upon deeper investigation, it seems that HP is aiming for a convergence of storage that displays five individual traits:
- Polymorphic (yeah whatever)
It would be so much easier for HP to settle on some messaging that dispenses with the buzzwords, but in place articulates clearly what is actually a very compelling message. My advice, dispense with the marketing staff who justify their positions by inventing new terms and instead invest in people who have the ability to create a simple, consistent and coherent message.
Severe tensions within the organization. So no one expects a 300000 person organization to join en masse in singing kumbaya together. But Discover was its flagship event and the inconsistencies between different business units were glaring. I sat in a coffee session where a dozen or so influencers were being briefed by around 6 HP execs (I’m not completely sure why there was such a large number of execs there, I suspect it in itself points to the fragmentation within the business). The discussion was very heated as we tried to get to the bottom of HP’s claims that its cloud products are enterprise grade. One of the pundits in particular was adamant that it is only through providing a service that is price-competitive with AWS, that HP will be successful. The answer to this criticism is, in my mind, eminently simple – HP is a trusted vendor by the largest enterprises in the world who are more than happy to pay a price premium to get the benefits (perceived or real) of a product from HP. Case closed – HP sells a top end service at a price differential when compared to commodity players. End of story.
Why then did we have a merry-go-round of conflicting views from the HP execs attendant, finally closed off on the most unfortunate note by one executive who told us that HP cloud will succeed simply because it is built on HP hardware? SHOOT ME NOW! If only all the execs in the room had come out with a simple and concise message, we would have all bought into it. The ridiculous and troubling thing is that it took me, frustrated by the inconsistencies we were hearing, to articulate what I believe is the message HP cloud should be saying – that HP will succeed in the cloud by promising enterprises something very simple, that it will take more care, offer better service and ultimately be more reliable than its more commodity-focused competitors. It’s simple. The opportunity was there. But instead we were left confused and concerned.
In discussing the session with other HP execs afterwards, they too were surprised at some of the messaging we all heard – which points to a worrying and potentially fatal disconnect within the organization’s executive ranks.
The bigger picture
Ultimately this is the issue that HP has no option but to face. As someone in the sessions commented, a few years ago if one was to have walked into Microsoft’s HQ in Redmond, every employee on the campus, down to the janitors, would have been able to articulate a simple message around Microsoft’s view of the cloud. Many of us balked at the software plus services messages, but no one can deny that it was a message articulated consistently right across the organization. HP lacks this discipline and, in my view, that is the key challenge of the multitudinous challenges that CEO Meg Whitman needs to face – her organization is full of incredible individuals and incredible technology assets, but the message from the rank and file is conflicted and confusing. To use a metaphor, HP has the ability to be a massive oil tanker with the potential to mow down all competitors in its way but, in part at least, it comes across as a series of rickety junks – weaving and bobbing their way up, down and across an increasingly choppy ocean.
Have no fear, HP can be a massively important player moving into the future, but to do so requires amassing the troops in some semblance of discipline, giving them strong and clear orders and setting them marching down a path together, and in lockstep. I hope they can do it.