Apotheker lays out new vision for HP -- details to come?

It's not clear from Apotheker's strategy outline how HP will differentiate its cloud services from the other major tech players

In 1993, after his first 100 days as CEO at ailing IBM, Louis Gerstner was being pressed to reveal his "vision" of the new IBM to come under his leadership. He famously responded that "the last thing IBM needs right now is a vision."

Instead, he said, what the company needed was "... a series of very tough-minded, market-driven, highly effective strategies for each of its businesses -- strategies that deliver performance in the marketplace and shareholder value." Even as he was implementing those specific, tough changes, critics harped on the "vision" thing and wondered whether Gerstner really had a blueprint for rebuilding the humbled computing giant. We know how that story ended.

By contrast, after four-and-a-half months as CEO of HP, Leo Apotheker stood before scores of journalists and analysts in San Francisco on Monday to reveal his vision for the new HP -- a vision that encapsulates a lot of today's hot buzzwords but was surprisingly thin on dates or details. According to Apotheker -- who took over in the wake of former CEO Mark Hurd's sudden departure, HP will "provide seamless, secure, context-aware experiences for the connected world."

What does that mean? And, more important, how does that differentiate HP from the other major players in the tech business?

As expected, Apotheker made clear that cloud will be a key focus for HP, and he tantalized the audience by discussing plans for offering infrastructure as a service, platform as a service, and an application store for both consumer and enterprise. But he said very little about how those services will be built or when they'll be offered, beyond revealing that the infrastructure service is being rolled out "as we speak" and that HP will take advantage of investments it has already made in big data centers to support it. The PaaS offering and the app store? Coming some time in "2011 to 2012." HP's take on PaaS will support multiple development languages, but Apotheker didn't say whether it will be based on Microsoft's Azure technology or something else. (Microsoft and HP have jointly developed an Azure appliance for the enterprise.)

Apotheker also said HP will use its considerable product portfolio and its services unit to help customers get to hybrid private-public cloud, but didn't reveal a great deal about how exactly it will help them do that. He sounded a theme voiced in a number of recent interviews that HP needs to expand its software portfolio and said that the focus will be on widening its management and security offerings, as well as its analytics capabilities.

Regarding management and security offerings, Apotheker again was light on details, beyond saying that HP will develop new software internally as well as expand through acquisitions. What kind of acquisitions? Well, software that advances cloud and connectivity not "the old software stack" -- a seemingly pointed reference to traditional software products offered by rivals like IBM or HP.

Apotheker said that HP's focus in analytics will be centered on helping customers with Big Data applications that involve huge data sets. HP recently announced plans to acquire an analytics software company named Vertica Systems, and HP demonstrated a powerful new appliance incorporating the Vertica software that the company says will be available in multiple configurations soon after the acquisition is consummated. Apotheker described the analytics market as one that is poorly served by vendors today.

On the connectivity front, the new CEO reiterated his plans to ship PCs, printers, smartphones, and tablets with WebOS -- though not to the exclusion of Microsoft Windows. He claimed that HP could achieve the scale of shipping 100 million WebOS-equipped devices a year, which, in his view, would make that an enormously attractive development platform for apps providers.

Will all of this or any of this require leadership changes within HP, as has been rumored? Apotheker declined to answer that question, saying the day was about "strategy," not tactics.

At the end, Apotheker's hotly awaited coming-out party was long on vision and short on milestones on a road map that by itself doesn't go very far in differentiating HP in a very competitive market. Now it's up to the former SAP leader to exercise HP's vaunted operational excellence to deliver something all the other players focused on cloud, connectivity, and the consumerization of IT aren't already talking about or providing.

Note to readers: I'll be interviewing Leo Apotheker on Tuesday and we'll provide a full transcript of that and a summary shortly after the discussion wraps up.

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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