Dear HP: You Bought It, Now Own It

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We keep tabs, but don't spend a lot of time on specific vendor meltdowns or machinations up to the point their actions are something we think our community needs to know about.

I had that sort of exception last month with the news that HP and CEO Leo Apotheker seemed to be shifting the biggest technology company in the world off PC hardware and toward software, services and  "information management." It happened again yesterday when that same messenger, Apotheker, was abruptly kicked out in favor of Meg Whitman, the former eBay CEO.

Apotheker, it was said, had missed some talking points about HP's core business (and surely sent HP's board backfilling its last directives). The new message is that HP's hardware assets are good and going nowhere, (except the failed tablet business). With Apotheker gone, executive board chairman Ray Lane retraced and told CNBC that a spinoff of HP's personal computing unit, not a sale, might "unlock" its $40 billion+ value for shareholders. That would be fair, given Lane's assertion that HP's piece parts were worth 30 percent more than its overall market value.

But as soon as that was said, Lane and Whitman hastened to reiterate HP's excitement about information management, which you can guess is going to be interesting to us, given the two words at the top of this page.

As you'd expect, we'd really like to see HP follow through on the discussion. In the best of worlds, this would be an opportunity to expose a broader audience to our calling that includes all the wrangling, managing, disseminating and value we can get when information assets are managed as core competencies of an information-driven organization.

It's a complicated discussion with a lot of moving parts, but HP, if it chooses, has more means than any company to construct a value chain around information management. So far, no vendor has attempted to closely articulate such a concept. On her first day, Whitman fell back to that most quoted factoid, that unstructured information is 85 percent of all information, its uses are underserved in many ways and that alone makes it a great opportunity. Like Apotheker, she's sure to bookend unstructured and structured data with the Autonomy and Vertica acquisitions as an entree to information management.

It's a starting point, and to be fair, Whitman is just starting to communicate the proposition for an audience of investors and analysts. Superficial messaging is nothing new in big technology, and I can relate for being asked regularly to explain the differences between data and information to curious friends and other newbies, even in my own company. For most people that discussion still needs to take place, and that's easy to forget when you're wrestling a lot of esoterica with very smart people.

Whitman said today that, "the number one thing HP needs is leadership." If so, the second thing HP needs is articulation of what HP is putting in the top of its PowerPoints. The third might be subject matter expertise and intellectual property to move the discussion past aspirational terms, and they have some of those parts from Vertica and Autonomy veterans moving over to HP.

Ray Lane can talk the talk with his experience at Oracle like Apotheker could with his SAP background, but neither has sent clear, simple messages defining information management and now one of them is gone. HP spent $10+ billion for Autonomy, and Lane says it can become a "four, five or hopefully $10 billion business." Sooner or later he's going to have to explain to Wall Street analysts how that works and show how the software and services he'll be acquiring fit the term he's using.

So come on HP, you bought it, so own it. Rise to the mission. If this was easy, we wouldn't need to be here ourselves. Welcome to information management.

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