HP Partners to Bring Printing to the Net

If HP's e-services strategy sometimes seems synonymous with "e-partnerships," the company's recent print and imaging announcement only reinforced the notion that it intends to drive its Internet strategy through alliances. The announcement also reveals a trend that's gaining momentum at HP—the company has either invested in its new allies or will share in their revenues.

The new initiatives, designed to elevate "HP's printing and imaging business to a new level," according to company President and CEO Carly Fiorina, fall into three main categories: services, infrastructure, and print appliances. Of these, the services area seems most fleshed out. Here HP is partnering to give users the ability to print plane or theater tickets, manuals, coupons, insurance policies, and international newspapers. While that may save time for users, it means profits for HP. The company, which accounts for more than 50 percent of all printers sold, can only benefit from increased usage not only of printers themselves but, equally important, of ink.

HP's new partners include FedEx, ImageTag, PrintCafe, NewspaperDirect.com, Mimeo.com, Stamps.com and Encryptix.com. The alliance with FedEx makes HP FedEx's printer of choice for printing electronic mailing labels with inkjet printers. ImageTag software allows users to store, retrieve and send documents using uniquely bar-coded labels called Post-it eFlags. PrintCafe, an online exchange for bidding on large print jobs, will use HP's e-speak brokering technology. Newspaper.com prints international newspapers locally. Mimeo.com is offering a printing service that allows users to send print jobs electronically to its printing facility in Tennessee, from which FedEx ships the completed jobs to their destinations. Stamps.com and Encryptix.com will allow users to print theater tickets, boarding passes and other such items.

On the infrastructure front, HP and its subsidiary Dazel have developed a document router that ensures delivery of important business documents.

HP's new print appliances are the HP JetDirect 4000 and the HP Jornada 540 Series Color Pocket PC. The JetDirect 4000 is the first in what will be a family of network appliances that allow IT managers to manage print queues with a browser. The Jornada 540 Series Color Pocket PC can beam color images to color printers with the tap of a stylus.

The announcement, made with a great deal of ballyhoo, aimed to position HP at the forefront of a major shift in document delivery—one in which documents are first sent electronically and later printed at their final destinations. In fact, the print and imaging giant seems a likely contender for that position, but the announcement seemed long on partnerships and short on technology. Analysts who noted a lack of specifics expressed hopes that HP would soon fill in some of the gaps.