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Information Management Strikes Back

Last week, HP, a $115 billion enterprise at the top of its chosen food chain said, 'you know, this personal computer hardware stuff is just not where it's at anymore, we're out.' It was like throwing out the baby and the bathwater except, according to HP, there was no longer a baby to be concerned about.

Two short quotes are all you need:

CEO Leo Apotheker on HP's Personal Systems Group, the world's biggest PC notebook and desktop business: "We intend to evaluate a range of options that may include, among others, a separation of PSG from HP through a spinoff or other transaction."

CFO Catherine Lesjack on WebOS, (read TouchPads and smartphones): "...We have decided to shut down operations around webOS devices and we'll be exploring strategic alternatives to optimize the value of the software platform and development capability."

As analyst Ray Wang reminded me, HP did this without even suggesting there are buyers, nothing more than they are "exploring" the fate of these assets. Those pad devices are still all the rage if you're selling the right one it turns out. I'll let others debate whether that creates a bidding war or a buyer's market. (The winner gets Palm too.)

Jackie Gleason (as Ralph Kramden) could have captured the internal reaction to the implications of the changes announced, eyes bulging and arms out to steady himself. Humina humina humina...

Less faint of heart, HP's top brass say the future is enterprise software and services, specifically, ahem, information management, and the long process of turning the ship has just begun.

And there was Leo Apotheker saying the words "information management" and explaining the difference between structured and unstructured data to a bunch of men and women from Morgan Stanley, Barclays and Citigroup. (Buzzword alert: Our site traffic was up noticeably over the weekend as people were surely trying to discover what he meant.) 

It's not unprecedented, and a lot of people are comparing this move to IBM's transformation of the last couple decades. (The winner in that case got Thinkpad, thankfully.)

From zillions, I found an article written in Forbes about a year ago by an IBM general manager that summed up the game in a couple short pages that's practically a playbook for HP. As she put it, sometimes even huge companies must fully transform their portfolios and strive mightily to make skills cross over. It's hard to turn a big old company to a new line of business, and it's not comforting that HP's already experienced enterprise peers are struggling to be considered "nimble" by the public. How they take it to market, we'd guess to midmarket on up, is another question.

HP wants to bookend the information management discussion with its two big software acquisitions of late, Vertica accounting for the structured world and then the huge price tag for Autonomy for unstructured last week. As our news story went out, analysts were not yet impressed and we know an awful lot more goes into information management than a database on one end and content management on the other.

But we're sure more buyouts are sure to follow. Remember, IBM made its transformation over the course of buying more than 200 software and service companies and edging its way into places like advanced analytics and master data management. So far, HP is working mainly from two and a fledgling service arm.

Somebody on CNBC asked Carly Fiorina whether this wasn't obviously going to happen since Apotheker came from an enterprise software career at SAP. Rather diplomatically, she turned it around to say that maybe that's why they hired him in the first place and that they'd already baked their new strategy.

If so, it came to them pretty quickly. HP bought Palm for $1.2 billion in April 2010 and hired Apotheker barely six months later. They effectively abandoned a dedicated hardware approach to business intelligence and analytics not long after.

Things move quickly but HP says they've got it now, or think they do. Maybe we'll see information management become a new marketing buzz term, but as everyone here already knows, it always has been the standard.

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