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CIO - Last week, I looked at the methods of Louis Gerstner (with massive help from Jerry York) and Steve Jobs used to turn around IBM and Apple, respectively, and applied them to Hewlett-Packard in 3 Steps HP Should Take to Turn Itself Around.
But there is another process, and it isn't mutually exclusive. Jobs did it after completing the first phase of Apple's comeback, and Thomas Watson did it when he redefined IBM in the 1950s--and it resulted in both Apple and IBM dominating their respective eras.
"It" is taking the company and focusing its efforts on owning the next technology wave. For IBM, that was mainframes. For Apple, it's personal electronics. Right now, two waves appear ready to break. Both are pulling a lot of ink, but neither has yet created a company of IBM's scale or Apple's potential yet. HP is aligned with both trends-though far mare aligned with the one that is potentially more disruptive to the current world order.
The First Wave: Personal Robotics
The robot wave actually involves two phases: Low-cost assembly-line robots followed by personal robots. The invention of Baxter, which is part of the first phase, presents the opportunity for an industry-focused IBM-like solution to revolutionize manufacturing-and, critically, for that revolution to occur in the United States.
Baxter creates massive problems for countries such as Taiwan, China and India. While each possesses the engineering know-how to build it, using robots to replace manufacturing jobs would massively increase unemployment, which would likely result in revolt. This suggests that these governments, rather than funding and supporting the effort, would resist it.
On the other hand, plenty of manufacturing job have already left the United States. Building the robots-and the highly automated manufacturing plants that they'd require-would thus be a more acceptable proposition for the U.S. government. If Capitol Hill can shake off its inability to make fiscal decisions and provide incentives for such investments, the end result could be that the robots are built here, not to mention many (if not most) of the plants that use them. That, in turn, would add jobs and increase the resulting companies' taxable income.
The mechanical structures of HP's printing division are actually close to those used in robotics. (If you think about it, a printer and a PC are essentially a robot that can replace a typist, secretary or stenographer.) HP combined its PC and printer divisions in March. Put its in-house designers to work and this could form the core of an integrated robotic system.
Given that robotics at this scale is new, having something near at hand should give HP a faster ramp to market than any other existing technology company-and a mitigating edge over the automotive companies that have been working on this problem. Personal robots would also give HP a product that could leverage its printer and PC units, further validating their merger.