HP Enterprise: The Cusp Of Greatness

hp_logoYesterday’s keynote at HP Discover was difficult for me to consume, because it felt like a firehose of marketing pitches from at least half a dozen HP executives. Perhaps I’m bringing an unfair comparison to the experience, but years of VMworld have led me to expect an inspiring rally cry, made real by charismatic speakers and specific technical use cases (polished, of course, to fit nicely into a session like that). Instead, it was merely topical hopscotch. Then Dominic Orr hit the stage.

Dominic presented a clear problem (people working everywhere), a relatable situation (finding yourself on the cold side of the firewall), a winning style (“collisionable moments”), and a specific solution (Aruba). That’s what each part of a keynote should embody. HP is privileged to have Dominic on the team. Now it’s time to discover (or hire) more people like him to lead the charge.

This is the opportunity at hand for HP Enterprise.

While Meg Whitman cited 75 years of history behind the choice of the new name, the split is also a unique chance to shed that past and reinvent for the future.

HPE has sizable building blocks in compute, storage, network, and software, and the coming months will reveal whether leadership can stack these to form a cohesive industry wonder. Otherwise they will likely remain disparate units, like broken pillars in the ruins of ancient Greece.

How Can HPE Build A Wonder?

Web. For the modern organization, web presence is the true first impression. Today, HP doesn’t make a good one, and the deeper you click, the worse it gets. The web platform team has a chance to change this, to wipe the slate and paint a new portrait of HPE for the world.

Unify the interface. Simplify the content. Create technical and social launching pads from every marketing page. Make an online quote and purchase more like an Amazon Prime order and less like a Walmart checkout line. I wish them the best and hope they can learn from other professionals like the UX team at SolarWinds. Kellie Mecham and crew are excellent at this.

Solutions. Free the minds of your people and verticals. HP has many gifted people, but I am not naive enough to believe that HP has the only brain trust in IT. Great ideas and products exist outside HP and some may even be a better pairing with products like 3PAR or Aruba than HP’s own intellectual property.

It is a worthy vision to build and unite HP’s verticals to truly be the best comprehensive fit for every situation, but that isn’t today’s reality. Customers appreciate vendors and solution providers who will be honest enough to say, “we aren’t the best fit in this case”. Partner with them. Be confident and passionate, but also humble. If HP was perfect in every area, it wouldn’t be splitting. That’s okay to say. Acknowledge weaknesses and then seize the day to learn from the world around you.

Flatten and Decentralize. This week I’ve heard several times about HP’s 300,000 employees. That number is simply staggering. Are they all truly necessary? Is it possible that some just get in the way of communication and progress? (pardon the impersonal nature of that question) How many degrees of separation are there between a mid-range customer and Meg Whitman and leadership who make the ultimate decisions?

Everyone here at HP Discover has stated that agility is the chief reason for the split. Agility comes in many ways, one of which is dividing and conquering. HP Enterprise will still be a Fortune 50 company after the split and likely will face the majority of the same hurdles it faces today–even if 300,000 becomes 100,000, that’s still massive. HP would do well if its storage, compute, network, software, security, etc teams behaved more like alliance partners than departments. In that fashion, HP Discover could well become a series of conferences focusing on each area. Aruba already has its Airheads community, which is more than 2,000 strong. 3PAR, StoreOnce, and StoreVirtual could easily inspire a “Blockheads” community :). Okay, moving on…

Simplify The Message. Just go to VMworld. Copy them. It’s okay. Microsoft copied Novell. IBM copied Apple. Everyone copied IBM (PC). Innovation only truly happens once (there are no qualifiers for “unique”). Everyone else simply improves upon it. So find the “best of breed” around the world and then tune it to HP’s customers.

This week, that could have looked something like this:

  • General Session / Keynote #1: Focus on “Transform” and “Protect” and skip most of the videos. Instead, present tangible use cases for HP products that can participate or lead out in mid-range customers’ hybrid infrastructures. Even large companies are small- or mid-range units inside, so it would be broadly applicable. Then, build on the outlined hybrid infrastructure and show (demo to) the audience how HP can protect data integrity, confidentiality, and availability–using actual products, not buzz words.
  • General Session / Keynote #2: Continue the transformation to “Empower” customers through brief, yet concrete implementations of Haven and Helion. Even though smaller shops may not have a first-hand application of those products, they can appreciate a stage demo of insight gained from a real system. Finally, take the incredible power of big data running inside the datacenter and extend it to the mobile worker crossing the firewall meridian (team up with Dominic on this last part). That’s a two-session story that would get most of us fired up.

Recognize & Replicate. HP has a lot of great folks among the minions. I can really only speak for storage but people like Ivan Iannaccone and Manish Goel get it. They have vision and they ask the right questions of customers. They aren’t afraid of constructive criticism and they sincerely want to adapt to inevitable change, preferably on the leading edge.

Find these people in each of the verticals and use them as templates to unearth more from within or recruit more from without. View any and every worthy acquisition as an opportunity to freshen the ranks and reinvent. We all get stuck in ruts that make sense to us when left to ourselves. That’s why we need others and their independent perspectives.

Keep Changing. Lastly, don’t coast when November 1 arrives and HP and HPE stand apart. I venture to say that HPE would be wise to consider further subdivision, if only functionally, but possibly organizationally. Use “HP Software” as the example. Everything is software today. Break it down.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise has the world before it. Carpe diem.

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