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HP makes management a priority

Oct 13, 20034 mins
Data Center

* Notes from HP’s September analyst event

HP’s “Adaptive Enterprise,” like Computer Associates’ and IBM’s “On-Demand” visions, depends on effective and pervasive infrastructure management that automates to business priorities. This may not seem especially revelatory for most readers of this column, but for vendors whose revenue is driven primarily by hardware and services, it’s far from a no-brainer.

The reasons for this are cultural. Developing and selling software is such a different business model from manufacturing and selling hardware that placing software at the heart of a business strategy – and in particular that traditionally ugly duckling, management software – has never been done, as far as I know.

However, there were strong indications at HP’s September analyst event that the company may soon arrive at this historical first in high technology. If it can do that, HP can obtain some real advantages.

A focus on management software would give HP a compelling “tip of the wedge” to create a credibly neutral, strategic business relationship. Add HP’s span of markets – from OSS to enterprise, to SMB, to consumer – and its depth in consulting and services. In my view, the most striking advantages come from HP’s depth in OSS on one hand and consumer technology on the other. As enterprise firms become more like service providers in their business models, and OSS becomes more enterprise-like in its offerings, having both OSS and enterprise expertise will become a rich seam for HP to mine. Similarly, consumer applications, particularly those supportive of digital imaging and printing, all-terrain mobility, and rich media – will help to drive business applications in the future – as information becomes more flexible and multi-faceted.

HP still has a long way to go to deliver on a full-bore commitment to management software, but CEO Carly Fiorina and CTO Shane Robinson were more convincing than ever that management software for adaptive control is a priority. (Services are also, of course, primary to HP’s strategy, but no one can automate a service, and the adaptive enterprise is fundamentally an investment in enlightened automation.)

Fiorina stressed “simplicity, manageability and adaptability” to address a global business culture, which she summed up as a “horizontal, heterogeneous and networked world.” She projected HP’s directions in management as including “management of the elements, to management of applications, to management of processes.” Robinson stated that “management is everywhere – automated management control for heterogeneous environments: multi-vendor, multi-platform, multi-sources.” And he saw business processes emerge from “specialized and repetitive to automated and commoditized,” moving from a pure service play to one in which advanced software can play a much more elevated role.

Interestingly, there was some discussion about HP’s decision not to do Business Process Management in its strictest sense. This is because pure play BPM software companies are largely transparent to the IT infrastructure and focus on how to evaluate and run a business in terms of very specifically verticalized expertise. HP’s position is that its role is to automate the infrastructure to map to best business practices within a given business sector – without trying to tell a CEO how to do his or her job. That’s a pragmatic perspective, and an honest one as well, given the growing cloud of management software vendors who claim to do BPM management, but who really are focusing on just this type of IT/ business alignment.

I will have to make one negative comment. If there was anything wrong with HP’s messages last month, it had little to do with software. It was what Enterprise Management Associates calls the “Lake Woebegone Syndrome,” typical of many analyst events, where, “All the leadership is strong, all the customers are good looking, and all the products are above average.”

In other words, there was just too much time spent on claiming superiority and bashing the competition – although, this wasn’t much in evidence from the OpenView shop. Anyway, in the management sector, where IT is universally trying to consolidate and leverage investments, the fiercest and most effective competitive strategy is to embrace and add value.