Friday, August 21, 2009

Can Hewlett Packard be a floor wax AND a dessert topping?

InformationWeek's Bob Evans asked an interesting question in his open letter to Hewlett-Packard's Mark Hurd:

Much or perhaps even most of your company's revenue comes from business customers whose needs are increasingly sophisticated and urgent, but a Bloomberg News story two days ago about your earnings report begins with this description of your company: "Hewlett-Packard Co., the world's largest personal-computer company . . . " Is that the image you want for HP?

Now Bob Evans and InformationWeek are certainly looking at this from the perspective of a business customer, and as such could conceivably be offended by HP appearing to pander to the unwashed consumer market.

However, I'm not offended, and I doubt that most CIOs are offended either. You see, I'd be willing to bet that 99.999% of all CIOs go home at some point. And at least some of those CIOs have husbands and wives and kids and moms and dads. So perhaps these CIOs are aware that there are people outside of business who are looking for (gasp) personal computers.

What would happen if Hewlett Packard repositioned their marketing and de-emphasized the consumer market? Well, for one, my personal mailbox would be less full, because HP wouldn't be sending me inkjet printer tips and tricks every month.

Of course, that isn't what Bob Evans is suggesting. Evans is instead suggesting that HP let someone else own the #1 personal computer title.

Not a darned thing wrong with having become #1 in this wicked, cut-throat, low-margin, fickle, and highly exposed business. Rather, the problem is whether you want to hold on to that top spot in this wicked, cut-throat, low-margin, fickle, and highly vulnerable business. IBM (NYSE: IBM) shipped its PC headaches off to Lenovo, which can handle and even enjoy the brutal and commodity-driven dynamics of that business because that's what Lenovo does as its core business.

Then there's the inevitable Rise Of The Little Machines, as businesses are beginning to turn away from today's incredibly powerful and capable notebooks and toward smartphones and netbooks. Your PC revenue fell 18%---how much of that was due to the rotten economy and how much was due to a shift toward lighter, simpler platforms?

While a financial argument can be made that perhaps it's a good idea to de-emphasize, or even exit, the personal computer market to concentrate on the business market, you have to remember that there are companies that concentrate on providing hardware to the business market. One of them is called Sun. And just yesterday Oracle received approval from the Department of Justice to acquire Sun. (This isn't a done deal yet; more approvals are needed.) If you're going to play in one market rather than two, you'd better have a really compelling story.
blog comments powered by Disqus