HP needs to balance breadth with complexity
We're into day two of HP's Americas Partners conference here at the new Aria Hotel and Resort in sunny Las Vegas, which is one of the few Vegas hotels where there are lots of windows to let you look outside at the beautiful weather you're missing.
The views haven't tempted many of the 1400 HP partners and executives away from the conference yet though, and the messaging they've been hearing – more so than taking on Cisco Systems in networking, or Dell in SMB systems – has been around breadth.
From new HP channel chief Stephen DiFranco's opening keynote Monday to CEO Mark Hurd's address to partners Tuesday morning (watch CDN Now for full coverage Wednesday morning), and in my conversations with HP Canada executives, the message has been consistent: HP sees itself uniquely positioned to compete with any vendor, and win, because it can leverage the scope of its intellectual property across the range of product portfolios. Whether its servers, storage, networking or laptops, HP wants to lead in every market, and they believe their ability to bring all those disparate components together gives them a distinct competitive advantage over their point-competitors in any one market.
HP sees profitability in this breadth, and the ability to deliver the right mix of solutions to the right business case for each customer, rather than trying to squeeze-in a one-size-fits-all approach, as they accuse some of their competitors of doing. The battle will be fought in the data centre, and Hurd told partners not any one technology – be it servers, storage or networking – is the one answer. And in a not so veiled shot at Cisco, Hurd said if any vendor tells you networking is THE answer in the data centre, you should take a closer look at their profit and loss: they're probably a networking company.
So HP sees breadth as its competitive differentiator, and its executives are encouraging partners to go deeper with the vendor and broaden their HP play going to market. Attach, attach, attach is the name of the game.
Of course, the flip side though is that as you increase breadth, you also increase complexity. HP wants its networking partners to add servers, and storage, and PCs and so on, which means additional partner investment in training, certifications and capabilities. And it also means more programs and touch-points and people for partners to deal with within HP.
Right now, HP's go to market doesn't seem as integrated as it could be from a partner enablement perspective. It's still very much each business unit taking the lead, driving its own priorities and running its own partner programs and incentives. That's fine when partners are only working with one piece of HP. But if they're going to go to market across the stack, it creates increasing complexity for partners.
I've heard lots of acknowledgement from HP this week that complexity is an issue, and that they need to get easier to do business with. Frankly, I'm not sure I've ever been to a partner conference where a vendor hasn't said that. Hurd jokes that, contrary to reports, they're not trying to actually make it harder. But what I haven't heard, though, are specifics on just how, as HP asks partners to go deeper, they're going to make that easier.
Speaking with HP Canada's new channel chief, John Cammalleri, it's clear HP sees its business units as important to driving innovation and growth. He also wasn't keen on fostering partner-to-partner collaboration as the way to bring more breadth to market — he wants partners to go deeper.
I believe that the role of the partner organization is to be that bridge between the business units and the partners, and the solution partner organization needs to step up here and help HP give its partners one view into the vendor, and one integrated program to truly leverage the breadth of their portfolio. In essence, make HP PartnerOne truly live up to its name.

Because without reducing complexity, breadth won't be the asset HP is hoping for.

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