"So, what would YOU do to fix HP right now" was the question. Hardly rhetorical, but a bit unseemly at a Valentine's Party, don't you think?
The conversation moved to a side room instead of staying in a packed dining room where singles, mostly budding entrepreneurs from other countries, were preening and old guys lacking hair were recounting past triumphs.
I don't believe that the questioner expected an answer. And of course it'd be presumptuous to think I had one. So I chose to pick a 'simple example' -- video teleconferencing. The small group of people all had experience with some form of this, most of them with Skype (after all, FREE trumps most things).
But some knew Cisco Telepresence, and a couple knew Intel's ProShare from some years ago; one was part of LifeSize, and another had Polycom experience. All had "played with" Google Hang-Outs. None, however, knew about HP Halo.
The person touting LifeSize said, "I couldn't do my job without it, and let me tell you why..." Everyone else seemed to be looking at their shoes, or maybe they had dropped a canapé and were trying surreptitiously to locate it for retrieval.
And I couldn't help thinking back to when HP put 300 downlinks for video-conferencing into WW company locations (in 1985), well before the Internet experience, indeed well before ubiquitous email connectivity (Virginia, is there a Santa Claus?), and what it meant for co-ordinating a far-flung disparate corporation at the time. Eventually, via a somewhat disconnected and tortuous path, HP Halo arrived, and Disney found it indispensable for building and co-ordinating Disney Tokyo from Hollywood.
The learning from that experience drove the development of the best -- some would still say, ONLY -- optically-correct video conferencing system ever produced. "Look 'em in the eye" is more than a phrase; it is essential to build trust between people, whether they've jsut met, or they're long associates.
Almost all Video Conferencing systems create a subliminal mistrust factor from the opening minute for users, not perceived but 'felt'. This fact alone accounts for much of the adoption difficulty of this technology, but to get designers or users to realize that, let alone acknowledge it -- tough proposition!
Meanwhile, the 'word on the street' is that Logitech is refocusing their corporate targets and LifeSize is possibly 'on the block'. Cisco's difficulty selling their expensive Telepresence rooms is becoming public knowledge -- and they are too spotty in locale to be very versatile (we are trying to use these for a current project, and my colleague at the fourth largest engineering school in America has to drive seventy miles one-way to get to a Telepresence room which is almost solidly booked for 'real work' when he gets there). Cisco has not seemingly integrated Tandberg with Webex, and neither one with Telepresence. Polycom, after some big announcements, seems invisible. Vidyo, with the best technical solution by far in terms of HD clarity and edge connectivity (e.g. mobile on low BW without dragging everyone else's image in the mud), licensed the technology to Google for Hang-outs, but otherwise has little traction. No one has even heard the name Vidyo probably, and certainly no self-respecting company would pay royalties to another to use H.264 embodiments that work. NIH (Not Invented Here) still wins for most software companies, as well as in Congress.
Back to the question at the party -- so what would you do at HP? Well, it took HP 25 years from its first two acquisitions in printing to come up with the HP LaserJet, and another eight years to have a winning InkJet printer. Tons of companies tried in the meantime, almost all of them were in fact copier and / or office products companies (names like Xerox, Savin, Canon, Konica-Minolta, even IBM), but when HP got it right, they got more than 50% of the equipment market for two decades, and 50% of HP corporate profits (for the highest revenue high-tech company on the globe) for the same period. WOW. What if they did that in Ubiquitous Video Communications, and it was good enough that it REALLY CAUGHT ON?
The point, of course, to me is that fundamental R and D on fundamental questions for problems that scream for solution has worked in the past -- in fact, that is what built HP reputation and stature for six decades. Could it work again?
Dream on, Charlie....