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Business Management

HP should look to Apple to reinvent itself

So it has come to this. Hewlett-Packard, one of the grand marques of technology, is splitting itself into two, roughly equal parts in an attempt to re-energise and restore its storied verve.

You probably need to be over 40, and perhaps rather older, to begin to understand what the HP brand means. HP was among the first technology firms to be, literally, a garage startup, and it became renowned for its commitment to innovation, engineering and making bright ideas solid reality. Today, startups rely on AWS for infrastructure and spend more energy on their commercial “narratives” to delight venture capitalists and market research to identify the next big smartphone app than on coding. In this shiny, new, plastic world, HP might seem rather ancient.

The ‘HP Way’ was a byword for a ‘can do’ employee individuality and excellence in the tradition of founders Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard. The company has had an up and down time of it over the last couple of decades, however, as it has struggled to redefine itself at a time when commoditisation and changing platforms have made navigating the new IT a struggle for the companies that once led the way. As with IBM, Microsoft, Dell and others, there have been some big calls to make - and HP has got plenty of them wrong.

Bifurcation is an interesting and bold approach to recapturing the imagination of the latest generation of businesses and consumers. However, HP badly needs to convince buyers that it remains a differentiated company - or companies, plural. That’s not easy when so much of the new talent comes not from California but from India, China and many other places in the world, where margins are slim, cost models low, and where IT infrastructure increasingly resembles a building block, paint-it-by-numbers affair.

But there will always be opportunities to start new waves of technology and if HP needs an example of a company recreating itself it can look a mere dozen miles down the road from Palo Alto to Cupertino. Apple’s remarkable second act is a wonder of business history and at its core was an absolute faith in research and development and creating products that were disruptive, different and even beautiful. HP needs to attract what the Valley calls “makers”: the people with a vision of doing things better rather than obsessing over cost models or refining existing thinking. It used to use the watchword ‘Invent’; perhaps its new one should be ‘Reinvent’.

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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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