HP’s Meg Whitman must commit to partners and to stability

As Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) prepares to gather partners in Las Vegas next week for its first global partner conference since Léo Apotheker’s departure as CEO and the aborted plan to spin off or sell its personal systems group, new CEO Meg Whitman will have her work cut out for her as she addresses HP’s worldwide channel community for the first time.

Whitman replaced Apotheker last September, following a brief but turbulent tenure at HP for the former SAP AG (NYSE: SAP) executive. Apotheker oversaw the less than stellar launch of HP’s WebOS-based tablets, engineered several major software acquisitions including a US$10.3 billion deal for Autonamy Corp., and put HP’s personal systems group, makers of desktop and laptop computers, on the block as part of his strategy to move HP from commodity hardware into more margin-rich software and services.

(RELATED STORY: Why HP should emulate IBM, but not in that way)

A former E-Bay executive, Whitman decided to keep the PC business after she took the helm and promised HP will stay in the tablet business, but as they gather in Las Vegas partners will be looking to hear more from Whitman on HP’s future direction and where she plans to take the company.

Canadian partners will be paying particularly close attention to Whitman’s first “state of the channel” address as the partner conference gets underway. As Tech Data Canada president Rick Reid notes, HP is the largest and most important partner for about 90 per cent of the distributor’s Canadian partners.

“I’m looking forward to meeting their new CEO for the first time, and their state of the channel address on opening day to understand their direction is always important,” said Reid. “Her commitment to the channel, and channel programs, is very important to us and our partners.”

In addition to an ongoing commitment to the channel route to market, Reid said he’ll also be looking for an ongoing commitment to all the lines of business HP is currently in, from the personal systems group and enterprise servers, storage and networking to printing and imaging.

“They’re all important to us,” said Reid. “HP is a significant part of our annual volumes, and it would be material if they were to change direction and sell one of those divisions.”

Stability needs to be the name of the game for HP agrees Paul Edwards, research director at London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group. With all the changes and upheaval of the past few years, partners want to see that this period is behind HP and they’re focused on the future. And they want specifics on what that future will hold.

“Whitman has spent a lot of time with partners since she’s come on board, and she’s heard a lot from partners in those discussions,” said Edwards. “Partners will expect to have a good idea of what direction will be taken, based on that input.”

In other words, Edwards said the time for generalities about channel commitment has past; partners will want to see Whitman put some meat on the bone. In fairness, Edwards said Whitman has inherited most of these issues and has done a good job so far.

And with the breadth of its portfolio, Edwards said HP is well-positioned to play in some of the biggest trends impacting the industry today, from big data, mobility and cloud computing to bring your own device. What partners want to know is if there’s a profitable role for them to play with HP.

“Now is HP’s opportunity to say here’s the opportunity and there’s lots of it. Really lay out that roadmap,” said Edwards.

HP’s Global Partner Conference begins Monday in Las Vegas, and CDN will have full coverage through Thursday. Follow @JeffJedrasCDN on Twitter for live updates from the conference.

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
A veteran technology and business journalist, Jeff Jedras began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the booming (and later busting) Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal, as well as everything from municipal politics to real estate. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada. He would go on to cover the channel as an assistant editor with CDN. His writing has appeared in the Vancouver Sun, the Ottawa Citizen and a wide range of industry trade publications.

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