HP takes reins of software customer show; some feel abandoned

With Mercury acquisition done, HP next year will take away control of Software Forum from independent user group.

HP this week revealed it would in 2007 run the HP Software Forum user conferences, shows previously put on in part by the management software maker's independent user group OpenView Forum International.

HP, with its $4.5 billion Mercury Interactive deal complete, says it will rename the show HP Software Universe and highlight best practices and technology seminars about OpenView, as well as software from the acquired Peregrine Systems and now Mercury.

"At this time, HP has made the business decision to run its own user conferences -- a common practice within the technology industry. We are significantly expanding our customer base and it is critical for us to communicate to all HP customers -- both current and future customers -- in the most direct way possible," HP commented in response to a press inquiry.

Industry watchers aren't surprised by the move, citing HP's self-described "game-changing" acquisition.

"HP Software now has a much broader scope than the mostly network management-oriented audience that attended Forum. I also wouldn't be surprised if HP did a complete rebranding of the software group. They are such a different organization now and the problems that their solutions are trying to solve go way beyond the traditional compartments of network management, asset management or even testing," says Jasmine Noel, a founder and principal analyst at Ptak, Noel & Associates. "Another interesting thing is this acquisition swept away the last of the old OpenView technology executives. So when HP says it is game changing they really mean it."

For example, Todd DeLaughter, former vice president and general manager of HP's OpenView Business Unit, now under the moniker of HP Software, left HP in mid-October to head up automation software maker Opalis. And Nora Denzel, former senior vice president and general manager of the company's Software Global Business Unit, resigned in December 2005 after five years at HP.

Founded in 1993, OpenView Forum International (OVFI) currently does not require a membership fee, but the group could consider it going forward, according to Mike Peckar, principal consultant at Fognet Consulting and a forum member, who delivered the conference news to forum members at a New England chapter meeting this week. He told attendees that the group would be considering membership fees and has been asked to participate in planning content for the upcoming HP Software Universe. The North American Software Forum, previously slated to be held in Seattle in June, now is without a definite location or date. The company will host three regional shows worldwide.

"HP Software Forum will not be held in Seattle as previously planned, but HP will announce the date and location of its annual event in the United States shortly," the company said. HP representatives at the local meeting mentioned Las Vegas as the hosting city and June as the potential time frame, and petitioned content and topic suggestions from the group.

"HP supports OVFI in its mission to educate users, foster an HP software community online and via local chapters, and motivate users to meet at events for new product training and information," the company said in its response to a press inquiry. "We have asked OVFI to help shape the tracks and involvement of user groups in regional events worldwide and provide us with product and solution feedback as we refresh our road maps. We are committed to working with the OVFI, and we look forward to a continuing and long-term relationship."

Some forum members aren't looking forward to this change.

"I'm upset about HP's abandonment of support for the OpenView Forum's annual trade show in favor of running the show themselves. My concern is that the new software show run by HP will be dominated by HP marketing interests and will thus not serve the greater needs of the OpenView user community," Peckar says. "Also, some vendors may be excluded from these shows even though these vendors are heavily integrated with OpenView products if HP perceives them, rightly or wrongly, as competitors."

While Peckar sees the Mercury acquisition as a good move for HP, the conference news and inevitably long-term product integration tasks could distract the vendor from OpenView customers, he says.

"I am excited about the Mercury deal and I believe their products will mesh nicely with HP's traditional products as well as with the newly acquired Peregrine products," Peckar says. "I am concerned, however, that HP will be focusing its efforts in the next year or two to align, integrate and market these newer products, and this may occur at the expense of much needed attention on the traditional product lines."

Peckar told meeting attendees that without the profits generated by running the Software Forum and without finding another means of income, OVFI could also be challenged to provide the same level of community and support to OpenView users. Peckar's concern could be valid. HP last year decided to hold its own Technology World conference that competed with 31-year-old independent user group Interex's HP World gathering. Interex ultimately shut down, citing financial reasons, and canceled its 2005 show.

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