HP's Apotheker comes up empty

Long on vision, short on details, Hewlett-Packard's 'summit' leaves us wondering what its cloud and mobile strategies really mean for the enterprise

I got some heat from readers and HP last month when I used the four-letter B-word (it has a "z" in the middle and an "o" at the end) to describe the company's new CEO Léo Apotheker. Out of respect for my critics, I told Hewlett-Packard that I would come to the company's big vision thing this week with an open mind. HP didn't respond, but I paid attention anyway. I won't use the B-word again, but phrases like "dog-and-pony show" spring to mind. Apotheker's performance at the self-styled summit was filled with vision, some of it reasonable, some questionable, but almost entirely lacking in specifics.

Apotheker's performance was arrogant, filled with phrases like "Who else but HP?" If you've ever taken a class in speech writing or legal argumentation, you know that asking a rhetorical question only works when the answer is one you'll like. If you were talking about the cloud or Big Data and someone said that, you'd think the answer to Apotherker's rhetorical question would not in fact be HP but rather IBM, Amazon.com, Oracle, or any number of other providers. If you were talking mobile devices and OSes, you'd answer Apple or Google -- again, not HP.

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What's worse than the empty vision and the braggadocio is that HP is very late to the cloud and mobile markets. Great companies can certainly catch up, but to do so requires the excellent execution of specific strategies and, yes, tactics. But Apotheker says he doesn't like to talk tactics, and what he calls strategy is really vision. What's more, his record of entering new markets at SAP was not good. In fact, he failed his biggest test: entry into the small-business market.

For what it's worth, Wall Street was hardly impressed with Apotheker's vision, either. Bill Shope of Goldman Sachs, whose technology coverage is very influential, maintained his "sell" rating right after the summit -- not a good sign.

If HP is going to convince corporate IT customers and investors that it can become a leading force, particularly in the cloud, it has to lay out a very clear road map. By not doing so, Apotheker left IT wondering why it should look to HP for leadership.

HP's missing link between consumer and enterprise
One of the most puzzling parts of the HP summit was discussion of Apotheker's vision of bringing consumer-type innovation to the enterprise. What many of us have been calling the consumerization of IT is a real trend that has become a huge problem because of security, control, and compliance issues. The company that bridges the gap between the cool consumer devices that employees want (and often need) and the requirements of enterprise business will be richly rewarded.

But how does the plan to port WebOS to HP's PCs, a very late-to-market ploy that's not getting great reviews, resolve that contradiction? I certainly didn't know before the summit, and after the summit I still don't kow. (Neither do others who paid close attention.) Is HP going to take iPhone-like devices and pour in enterprise sauce or take enterprise-class devices and dip them in cool? Sure, it's a vision we can all get behind, but if HP knows how to execute it, neither Apotheker nor Todd Bradley, the executive VP of HP's Personal Systems Group, gave us much of a clue that it does.

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