Editorial: HP -- Inventor or Integrator?

HP is expanding its image to become a systems integrator.

When HP CEO Carly Fiorina unveiled a new HP logo late last year, only one word appeared underneath it – "invent." These days, though, HP is emphasizing other words, like "integrate" and "aggregate."

This isn’t surprising. Today, customers aren't so much interested in point products as overall solutions. In response, the large vendors have been forming alliances and integrating their partners'technology into so-called end-to-end solutions. In other words, the big players have become systems integrators, with HP as no exception.

What about that word "invent" though? It's been a -- maybethe –- key to HP's success. It's what built HP's reputation. Customers may complain about consulting or sales or pricing, but they almost always praise HP's technology.

It's not technology, but flaws in organizational structure and marketing that have been HP's Achilles' heel. In the past, technology and products withered in company silos -- separate business units that seemed to compete rather than cooperate with one another. That isn't happening as much anymore.

Take, for example, e-speak, the software that allows for creation and brokering of e-services on the fly. E-speak is a big plus for HP. Playing directly into the company's services strategy, it is being integrated into the solutions and initiatives of any number of HP's business units, as well as solutions developed by HP's partners. What's important here is that everybody at HP knows about e-speak. It's talked about by people in almost all the business units.

In contrast, look at Changengine, a technology that hasn't received much attention from the press or within HP. Although Changengine doesn't rival e-speak in scope, HP, when launching it in late 1997, touted it as "central" to the company's "e-business strategy." After that, Changengine seemed to languish in what was then the Electronic Business Software Organization (EBSO). From time to time, EBSO unveiled enhancements and upgrades to Changengine, sending most journalists and analysts into research mode so they could remind themselves what Changengine was, and what function it performed.

Ah, but there's a success story here. A month or two ago, Bill Russell, an HP vice president and now General Manager of HP's Software and Solutions Organization, told HP Professional that, "Changengine is a product whose time has come." Russell's point was that, with the growth of e-commerce, the market has finally caught up with Changengine.

The different histories of e-speak and Changengine say much about the changes that have been taking place at HP. Since Fiorina came on board, the company has firmed up its overall marketing strategy and consolidated numerous small business groups into larger, more focused units. But, the history of Changengine says something else important about HP, and about that word "invent"

In the past, HP's attitude seemed to be, "If we build it, they will come." That visionary view sometimes worked for HP. At HP, someone (or ones) somewhere developed Changengine, and the technology eventually found its audience.

Many of us hope that HP is still encouraging its visionaries. That doesn't mean we expect the company to build every piece of technology contained in its solutions. It must access technology from other vendors. And when it can't find needed technology, it must build its own, as it is apparently doing to provide analytics capabilities in the portal space.

HP is looking fairly good right now. It is focused and is being applauded for that by the press, its customers and the markets. But that "invent" in the logo still means something. Let's hope someone somewhere in the HP Labs is working on the next Changengine.