Should HP's Next CEO Buy More Software? - InformationWeek

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8/10/2010
09:51 PM
Doug Henschen
Doug Henschen
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Should HP's Next CEO Buy More Software?

Hewlett-Packard has been missing from key markets. But maybe services and third-party partnerships have been the smart plays.

Free to act as an independent integrator without the taint of selling competing software, HP's BI Solutions unit has strung together a dozen or more partnership announcements over the last two years, including deals with Informatica, Ab Initio, Microstrategy and SAS. Would any of these independents be faring any better had they been acquired by HP? To the contrary, acquisition turmoil might have left them in a worse shape (witness the post-acquisition stumbles of BusinessObjects and Cognos). What's more, HP would be out the hundreds of millions to billions of dollars that would have been required to assemble a complete portfolio of information management and BI software.

Independence also doesn't appear to be hurting HP's hardware business. HP is the partner of choice for both Microsoft and SAP, and plenty of smaller independents know there's nothing to fear in working with the company. IBM seems to get its share of OEM and partner hardware business, too. But independents aren't exactly comfortable about IBM customer contacts and the prospect of Big Blue databases or software somehow entering the mix.

I haven't heard a Neoview customer win announcement in quite a while. But independents including Greenplum, Vertica, Aster Data and others have been growing quite nicely. Just today, Sybase inked a new deal with HP to provide reference hardware configurations for its Sybase IQ analytic database. I'm guessing HP's hardware business will benefit more through partnerships than it ever stood to gain through Neoview even if it was a wild success.

Make no mistake; software is hugely important in terms of customer mindshare and vendor profitability. (IBM learned this first-hand in the early '90s and has since spent more than 10 years buying software companies.) But given the acquisitions already made and the opportunities still on the table, HP could have done much worse than to focus on big deals like EDS and, more recently, Palm.

As Bob Evans uncovered in this article , HP's entry into analytics -- the hottest quarter of the BI market -- will happen through cloud services and mobile devices rather than through conventional software. HP Executive VP Shane Robison says the company's services and mobility investments will help it deliver predictive analytics and data visualization capabilities in new ways.

The analytics vision sounds compelling, but it strikes me as more of a long-range plan than something that's ready to be delivered. That's good, because it will likely be a year or more before a new CEO can articulate what HP can become other than what it is today: A great infrastructure company with a growing services business and little competitive baggage to weigh on partnerships with myriad software companies.

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