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July 2000

Carly: sound off on the e3000 to the C-level

NewsWire Editorial

On the broad, whitecapped grey waters of the Chesapeake Bay, our cabin cruiser skipped through steady chop. Four miles offshore and headed from Cove Point up to Baltimore, my brother in law worked behind the wheel to smooth and speed our ride. Then a craft appeared on the horizon to help, reminding me of another kind of sea-level trek: the HP 3000’s course toward CEOs, and how HP’s own Corporate, C-level officer should help.

Out in the bay, we bounced across the water at a steady 26 knots, Gary planing the boat across the rolling swells while I watched in some awe. Up on the bow, my wife Abby and her sister Nancy hung on the rails near the bow pulpit, seated on either side, tanned legs splashed with salt spray as they rode the amusement ride that lasted for hours, instead of minutes. At 26 feet, the Betty B (named for their mother who passed away last fall) is no yacht. It’s like a Series 939 in the 3000 lineup, a mid-range craft you see plenty of in coastal waters. We were enjoying a true vacation breaking waves in the boat, with few thoughts of work or the world of HP.

As we crept closer to the Bay Bridge near Annapolis, larger boats appeared. Gary pulled us a quarter-mile behind a real yacht, probably more than 45 feet. Drafting in the wake of the Shore Thing, our own ride got smooth and even faster. The larger craft broke the whitecaps without effort, helping us without doing any extra work.

That’s the kind of help the HP e3000 could use from the biggest boat in its bay, HP’s CEO. Just a week before we took to the water, we’d returned from the Smith-Gardner 2000 Expo, the biggest meeting of application customers all year for the e3000. The Expo had the feel of an HP 3000 show from the 1980s: Customers were using the system for mission-critical work where the 3000 was taking a backseat to no other computer. Budgets were flush, business was booming, companies were purchasing the best instead of pinching pennies.

HP was at the conference, in the presence of its e3000 division managers. A pair of technical experts on Internet and Web quality of service, one of the legendary 3000 sales SWAT team members, the Smith-Gardner HP sales rep, and division marketing director Christine Martino made up the HP contingent. S-G sells new 3000s to people who don’t own any, and sometimes convinces customers to dump IBM solutions in the process. These are waters in the 3000 world that marketing managers are eager to cruise.

But we learned it’s not as easy to cut through those waters as it once was, at least not for Smith-Gardner. Its VP of marketing reports that the computer responsible for its success is becoming a sales liability on the lips of its competitors. The HP 3000 may have gained an e this spring, but it hasn’t been e-nough for some S-G sales.

The perception is still out in the water that the commerce engine driving Smith-Gardner’s success is old technology, she said. It is the sort of chop that could be smoothed behind the smoothest vessel in all of HP’s fleet, she suggested: CEO Carly Fiorina.

There are, of course, many application companies who would long for a little attention from the HP leader who’s turned the heads of Wall Street and its analysts. Getting Fiorina to say something about your company or application would help anybody’s business, and it obviously takes more than that to succeed in business.

But Smith-Gardner’s Sharon Gardner doesn’t even wish for that much. All she’d like is for Fiorina, probably the most watched woman in the computer business today, to praise the HP 3000. Steering her craft onto the same course as the company’s most established business solution could create a wake that might lure hundreds more new clients onto the platform.

The clients S-G has already captured would turn the heads of most CEOs. They are brand names like Nordstrom, Barnes and Noble and JC Penney. Companies known by people who know nothing about computers. Businesses that analysts can recognize faster than the NASDAQ average moves in an afternoon.

As we mail this issue, it’s been one year since Fiorina took office at the head of HP. A lot of change has been proposed from that office, but one thing remains constant from the prior HP administration: The 3000, e or not, is still missing from HP’s C-level communications.

It’s easy to expect the NewsWire to call for Carly’s attention to the platform. We see HP as a $50 billion company that created the 3000 and had a few other good ideas afterward. We savor every bit of praise and testimony on the platform’s success, just as we keep prodding HP and others to maintain the system’s improvement and growth.

Making the NewsWire happy won’t be a priority of HP’s CEO. But supporting the platform’s partners by pointing out its success with marquee clients doing strong e-commerce should not be so far off her course. Fiorina has picked up Ann Livermore’s e-services torch — it was Ann’s team that lit that fire, remember — so that services now command C-level attention at HP.

The problem lies in Fiorina’s pruning of HP’s brands to elevate that services mission. Thinking of Hewlett-Packard as the place to get solutions instead of products is a bid to ply the same waters as IBM. But HP is not the old salt that Big Blue is on these seas. Lowering all flags but the “HP Invent” banner comes at a time when your favorite computer could use some C-level flag-waving in its application business.

IBM has already mastered this broad wake kind of cruising, keeping things like its mainframe business and AS/400 midrange servers healthy and growing — despite forecasts of doom years ago. If it was an IBM solution, customers learned, they could usually count on corporate-level support for it from Big Blue. Corporate, or C-level support, wins business.

That IBM wake is out there on the waters, throwing even Smith-Gardner’s 3000 successes off course. In the Chesapeake Bay we cruised behind the Shore Thing with little effort — until another yacht moving even faster bore down on us off to our left. At 26 knots we watched as the two wakes crashed together, leaving nothing but air under the Betty B’s prow for a few seconds. Our cruiser landed with a slap on the water, and Abby and Nancy’s bottoms hit the deck at the same time. Their bruises won’t last as long as our snapshots, but they haven’t faded yet, either.

Without the wake of that big boat, we wouldn’t have cruised so true toward our harbor. The absence of Carly-level attention to the 3000 is slowing one of the better prospects for platform growth. That growth matters to all of you: It promotes confidence and stability and enhancement. The SS Fiorina is a vessel that appears to part all manner of skepticism and doubt from Hewlett-Packard’s course. Leaving the relatively small craft of 3000 business to bob in competitors’ broad wake is a wasteful course to chart.

Inventions to be cherished at HP include products, not just the packaging of them. CEOs listen to other CEOs, like boats sailing the deepest channels together. As the whitecaps of Internet commerce kick up this year, it would help if HP’s CEO would sound her horn about the e3000 at C-level.

— Ron Seybold 


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