HP's Channel Challenge1:00 PM EST Fri. Oct. 23, 2009
Does Adrian Jones' good fortune leave Hewlett-Packard Co.'s channel partners in uncharted waters? Jones, head of HP's Americas channel organization, leaves that job on Nov. 1 for an even more high-profile position running the computing giant's server business in Asia--leaving HP partners happy for the popular channel chief but wondering what comes next.
HP has promised to fill the void at the top of its Solution Partners Organization Americas. But some HP partners speculate that more sweeping changes are also afoot in the Palo Alto, Calif.-based vendor's channel organization as HP emerges from a rough, recessionary business cycle and prepares for the challenges of a new fiscal year.
"Asia's a great opportunity for HP from a growth perspective," said Jones, who in early October was named the next general manager of HP's Enterprise Storage and Servers (ESS) business in Asia-Pacific and Japan.
"I love the channel, I really do," he added. "The channel partners have been awesome to do business with over here. I'll have responsibility for the channel over there too, just in a different part of the world."
Mont Phelps, CEO of NWN, a fast-growing HP partner based in Waltham, Mass., said Jones' Asia-Pacific apppointment is a sign of how strategic the business outside the United States is for HP. "That's a large part of the business," Phelps said. "This is a plum opportunity for Jones."
What Happens Now?
For those partners left in this part of the world, a key question concerns HP's plans to balance what has become a strong, responsive central channel organization with what some say is more autonomy being given to HP's individual business units to conduct their own direct business with solution providers.
"HP is moving the channel responsibility into the business units so they have more control," said one HP partner, who asked not to be named. "The plus side of that is the channel leadership will be more focused, more engaged. The risk side is they lose the ability to coordinate overall."
That's a balancing act that the Solution Partners Organization will be able to manage going forward, promised Stephen DeWitt, senior vice president and general manager of HP's Personal Systems Group. DeWitt, Jones' soon-to-be former boss, and Tom LaRocca, a Solution Partners Organization vice president of marketing, will lead the Solution Partners Organization on an interim basis until a new channel chief is named.
But DeWitt quibbled with the notion that HP's channel engagements were becoming more decentralized, arguing that HP's individual business units have always had a certain amount of control over channel issues specific to those businesses, while the Solution Partners Organization and its leader had a more general responsibility for the overarching engagement model with partners.
"It's not the role of HP's channel chief to be the ¼ber-aggregator," DeWitt said. "I would push back on [the] comment that the channel management is going more into pipes. It would be very unwieldy if we went into some kind of thing where we had 58 different channel chiefs."
One thing all parties seem to agree on is that Jones did a bang-up job in his two-year stint as general manager of the Solution Partners Organization and leaves big shoes to fill.
"He did an exemplary job of simplifying SPO to partners, and he really went above and beyond to a level of engagement that separated the wheat from the straw," DeWitt said, adding that HP would seek input from its channel partners in the search for Jones' replacement.
Rick Chernick, CEO of Camera Corner Connecting Point, a Green Bay, Wis.-based HP reseller who sits on the vendor's partner advisory council, called the Asia assignment a well-deserved promotion for Jones.
"My British friend in America is now going to Japan," Chernick said. "It's like a movie! He is a hard-running machine, extremely aggressive, disciplined and smart. Asia-Pacific is an area of high growth for HP and he is the man to get it done."
Chernick also said that he is not worried about Jones' replacement changing HP's channel direction, contending that "HP has a deep bench that is very strong."
A crowning achievement for the Solution Partners Organizaztion during Jones' tenure was the development and growth of HP's PartnerOne program, said John Convery, executive vice president of vendor relations and marketing at Denali Advanced Integration, a Redmond, Wash.-based HP partner.
Convery also stressed Jones' efforts to bring CEO Mark Hurd and other top HP executives into customer meetings right alongside partners such as Denali through a program called Executive Connections. That program earned Jones and the Solution Partners Organization the sincerest form of flattery when similar joint sales calls were initiated by other IT vendors with their own channel partners.
NWN's Phelps also singled Jones out for praise and wished him well in his new job. "Adrian had a big impact on the channel," he said. "He made it much simpler and easier to engage with HP. He took some of the friction out of the process."
Jones, whose wife is Japanese, said he initially will be based in Singapore for a few months before moving to permanent headquarters in Tokyo. He said one of his primary responsibilities in the region will be to integrate HP's ProCurve-led networking business into ESS, apparently a global strategy for HP as it takes on Cisco for supremacy in the network and in the data center.
Signs Of A Shakeup?
Meanwhile, some partners speculated that the move to send Jones to Asia-Pacific was only one part of a broader shuffling of executives and overall restructuring as HP gets ready for the economic recovery and a wave of vendor consolidations.
Partners pointed to visible churn within HP's Enterprise Business segment, formerly the Technology Solutions Group, under Executive Vice President Ann Livermore, and also to reports that HP may be merging its Personal Systems Group with its Imaging and Printing Group, the latter one of the hardest hit HP business segments during the economic downturn.
A Personal Systems Group-Imaging and Printing Group merger would no doubt be the most impactful shakeup for the channel at large, should it happen. But HP partners said that in the meantime, they are feeling the effect of moves that have already occurred within the Enterprise Business segment, which comprises ESS, HP Services and HP Software.
"It's interesting that all of these moves are happening now. This is all a part of a reshuffling as HP gets ready for its new fiscal year starting Nov. 1," said Mark Gonzalez, president of Nth Generation Computing, a San Diego-based solution provider and HP partner.
HP's ongoing integration of EDS into HP Services and the blending of its ProCurve networking portfolio into ESS have been reflected by assorted organizational changes, partners said.
In particular, partners have singled out HP's accelerated push under Dave Donatelli, named in April to head ESS, to challenge market leader Cisco with the HP ProCurve portfolio of products. That clash of the titans has added pressure--and sometimes even strain--to partner relationships, according to many solution providers that do business with both vendors.
Don Bialik, CEO of Calgary, Alberta-based Long View Systems, likened that vendor relationship balancing act to "bringing three girls to the prom and keeping them all happy." Another HP and Cisco partner who asked not to be named claimed that Hurd has told partners that HP is prepared to give Cisco "a war" over data center supremacy.
One thing seems certain--whoever HP's new channel chief turns out to be, he or she will have their work cut out for them.
Chad Berndtson, Steven Burke & Joseph F. Kovar contributed to this story.