| Subscribe | News Headlines | Technical Headlines | Planning Features | Advanced Search |

February 2000

Outside dazzle, inside changes

NewsWire Editorial

Change can be a good magnet for attention, especially changing something as fundamental as a name. While watching the HP 3000 division change the name of its product, I thought of my wife and partner in the NewsWire. To the many people in the 3000 market — er, I mean the e3000 market — she’s known as Dottie Lentz. But some people know her by a different first name, one that represents new ideals and ideas.

The women in my wife’s yoga and healing community know her as Abby, a name she’s long admired. Sometime last year she decided she’d like people who know her in these personal realms to call her by this new name. She didn’t go to the courthouse and have a judge attest to her new name. She simply began to wrap it around her like so much new attire, a glad rag that represents the changes she wants to make in her life, her heart, and her soul.

For her oldest friends, it’s been a struggle at times. This week one of them introduced her by her new first name. A few minutes later in the meeting she called her Dottie. And my wife had brought business cards to the meeting with her old name, then had to explain why she was being called by the new one as well.

The lesson seems to be that a name change draws attention, not only to who you are, but to who you want to become. When Dottie — er, Abby — explains her new name, she talks about goals of fitness, harmony, and creativity. Changing your name can be a sign of commitment to a new future.

I expect that the 3000 division will be doing that same kind of explaining this year, especially to its oldest friends. There is a temptation to dismiss a product’s name change as a marketing feint or a publicity dodge — just another way to rise above the crowd and get noticed. The evolution to e3000 is designed to do that, yes. But it appears it’s more than just a bid for another 15 minutes of fame, once you consider HP’s history in business computers.

I cannot recall a business server made by HP that has changed its name. Consumer products, yes. But even in the shifting sands of the commodity Unix market, the HP 9000 has held fast to its name for more than 17 years. Windows NT became Windows 2000, but the HP boxes which run it remain NetServers. From this evidence, and that of the 3000, it would appear that a name change is not something HP takes lightly.

Most encouraging is the story I’ve heard about the source of the 3000’s name change. It didn’t surface in some corporate sales center meeting, or outside in an ad agency’s office. e3000 began right inside the 3000 division, proposed by a fellow who’s best known by the installed-base customers who configure hardware: Dave Snow.

Snow is a Texan transplanted to California, and his job is to rope up the vast detail of new hardware options and technical configurations for customers and yes, the press. There is a saying in the world of marketing I’ve written about before in this space, “in the weeds.” Managers in tech companies use it to describe details they don’t think are important alongside the big message. These are often details that system managers and administrators like you need to know. Of everyone I’ve met in the 3000 division over the last 16 years, nobody is as comfortable in the weeds as Dave Snow.

When he admitted, on being quizzed, that he brought the idea of e3000 to the table, I felt better about it already. Here is a person who understands the distinctive advantages of the HP 3000 as well as anyone. This expert in explaining inside, technical detail wanted outside evidence of the change: a new name, a way to tell the world your business server is about connectivity and Web access, not just reliability and performance.

I’ve seen a few changes close to this in HP — even in the 3000 division. In 1988 HP came up with the New Wave Computing Environment, a software umbrella that got harder to explain every time somebody asked what it was supposed to do. It turned out to be object-oriented computing about seven years too early for the market, and with a Windows feel well before Microsoft appropriated that concept from Apple. New Wave was the talk of HP, but the market couldn’t embrace it. One relatively green HP magazine at the time even changed its cover description to “The Magazine of New Wave Computing.” The line got dropped as fast as it was taken up, the definition of a fad.

Four years later I got a call from Glenn Osaka, then the general manager of the 3000 division. What would I think if HP changed the name of the operating system from MPE/XL to MPE/iX? This change was designed to call attention to the Posix extensions in the new MPE. It also sounded like a way to make the 3000 a closer cousin to Unix. At that time MPE/XL only had about four years of significant exposure to the customers. The change didn’t rattle too many.

But a product name that’s 27 years old is quite another thing. Like a first name you’ve lived with all your life, this is a product that has attachments whose depths are difficult to sound. Marketing manager Christine Martino said the 3000 has a customer base “with loyalty like Apple’s customers.” That also made me smile, knowing I’ve used Macs in my business almost since they were introduced.

Shifting that Apple-like core of loyalty must be serious business, as serious as HP’s $15 million compensation spree for CEOs in 1999. And when you award someone more than $60 million in stock to take the job, you send a message about how serious you are about change.

Flashy CEOs with new Gulfstream jets and changing 27-year-old names are the dazzle that draws attention from the casual customer, one that’s uncommitted. Underneath the flash there’s a change of substance inside HP, and in the 3000 division as well — or at least the aspiration to change. One CEO in the 3000’s vendor community said the change in CEOs was good for HP. Rene Woc of Adager said that even if Carly Fiorina’s strategies for HP are just as unproven business-wise as Lew Platt’s were, “she’ll be able to give a good spin to any event that comes her way. It’s the difference between standing at the end of a (very good) career or at the beginning of one. She’s not afraid of being in the limelight — instead of hiding and running away from the cameras, she is not hesitant to face them and take advantage of the opportunity.”

Changing a name lets you face attention. My wife is learning to use the opportunity to share her dreams about herself, and help make them come true. I’d like to believe that’s what e3000 is about, too — sharing the dream of being a Web resource for 3000 customers like you, and new customers as well. Giving dreams a name has a way of filling them with hope. It’s even better when the hope is fueled by inside changes, too.

— Ron Seybold 


Copyright The 3000 NewsWire. All rights reserved.