HP Discover: Many Wows and Many Whys

On the flight over to the HP Discover event this week, I read Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine and he describes how 3M with over 50,000 products uses “conceptual blending”.  3M “regularly rotates its engineers, moving them from division to division. A scientist studying adhesives might be transferred to the optical-films department; a researcher working on asthma inhalers might end up tinkering with air conditioners.”

In my book, The New Polymath, I had described the GE Global Research Center’s ethos as  “ Innovation occurs at the intersection of
disciplines. ” “So, put chemists, mathematicians, engineers of all stripes, and biologists in close proximity and who knows where the conversations will lead.”

I was hoping to see how HP given its wide portfolio of products does similar “conceptual blending.” What I saw was many pockets of brilliance, but often not well coordinated.

Take data centers. I attended some really interesting sessions on NonStop (the heritage Tandem series of products), StoreOnce data dedupe solutions, and others which deal with converged processing and networking infrastructure. Over on the other side, i heard a Enterprise Services exec talk about commoditization of infrastructure services and why they had to sell value added messaging and vertical services on top. My head scratcher – why does the services group not take what its labs and engineers are pioneering and use the price/performance advantage to trounce the competition? This morning, I heard Dave Donatelli, EVP talk about the HP cloud, and I wondered how HP would manage cannibalization of its existing ES infrastructure outsourcing contracts.

Or take PCs. Todd Bradley, EVP in his talk this morning flashed a slide comparing a HP Ultrabook Elite to an Apple Macbook Air. He made the point that you needed to consider several additional accessories for the Air and that the Air made your “wallet lighter”. My immediate question was given HP’s scale and supply chain efficiencies (profiled in a case study in my new book, The New Technology Elite) when HP would match Toshiba’s sub $ 800 Ultrabook.

Take printers.  There was one on the floor printing just in time posters of Madagascar 3, (Dreamworks had arranged a sneak preview for the event). It was quite a sight to see rolls of posters in their colorful glory. Elsewhere I saw a battery operated inkjet printer/scanner/fax perfect for travel. There were plenty of other commercial grade printers. Elsewhere, HP Labs showed me some neat fraud detection and forensic technology – and some applications internally to combat counterfeit printer cartridges. Clearly, plenty of printer related innovation.

And yet something does not compute. For years now, Consumer Reports and other market watchers have described in their printer shopping tips how to minimize usage. There are fewer electronic devices that are so maligned – for frequent paper jams and other service issues, for expensive toners and other supplies, for long wait times to warm up/print/scan, for polluting the environment, and for archiving/shredding headaches of printed paper. In fact, retailers often use printers as loss leaders to sell other equipment.

Take software. There was plenty at the event on Autonomy which HP has spent a hefty amount acquiring, and there is open source in the form of Apache Hadoop around which HP announced Big Data solutions. Talk about conceptual blending skills needed across that portfolio.

At the screening of Madagascar 3 I explained to a fellow attendee that I had heard security guards may be walking around with night vision goggles looking for folks who may try to record the unreleased movie. And he went “Why? The movie will be out in theaters in 3 days. Surely, there are already bootleg copies out there.”

I didn’t have a good answer to his why? The movie deserved more attention, but it summarized my view of the event. I had lots of questions walking out, but didn’t want that to ruin all the innovation I got to see.

I am sure Meg Whitman is asking many of those questions. Both internally and externally I have heard lots of people who want her to succeed, and in her keynote she exuded a calm which HP sorely needs. She flashed a slide with a huge number of birds and said “we will darken the skies” with HP’s growing product portfolio. It would be poetic justice to see that flock be a little more in formation next year. With some “conceptual blending”, HP could be an awesome industry player – again.

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CEO of Deal Architect, a top advisory boutique recognized in The Black Book of Outsourcing, author of a widely praised book on technology enabled innovation, The New Polymath, prolific blogger, writing about technology-enabled innovation at New Florence, New Renaissance and about waste in technology at Deal Architect.  Previously Analyst  at Gartner, Partner with PwC Consulting. Keynoted at many business and technology conferences and has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, The Financial Times, CIO Magazine, and other executive and technology publications.