With the TouchPad sitting atop the IT Industry scrap heap, and the WebOS situation still unresolved, now might seem an odd time for Hewlett-Packard to be talking about why channel partners should develop mobility practices.
But HP, which last week decided not to sell or spin off its Personal Systems Group, is re-aligning its channel partners around the coming wave of Windows 8 tablets, even as the company continues to try to find a role for WebOS. HP is making its case by explaining how partners with mobility skills will be able to differentiate themselves from the pack.
"It's the same message we've always given: That mobility practices should be developed [by] our partners so that they can deploy mobile products with application layers and technology interfaces specific to their customers. That’s the value added they can bring," Stephen DiFranco, PSG senior vice president and general manager, said in an interview late last week.
Todd Bradley, executive vice president of the Personal Systems Group, acknowledges that HP still has some things to figure out when it comes to tablets, but he also suggests that the needs of business customers are continually evolving, and that no one has it quite figured out just yet.
"What is the appropriate tablet product for the channel to sell to the enterprise? I think there's still an enormous amount of work to be done on that," Bradley said in the same interview.
If this sounds familiar, it should: At HP's Americas Partner Conference in March, HP executives encouraged partners to get serious about adding application development, mobility virtualization and mobility management expertise. HP executives described the mobility space as a marathon as opposed to a sprint, with the implication that HP still has plenty of time to catch up to market leaders.
HP executives at APC also spoke of planned mobility-specific HP PartnerONE program benefits, including market development funds, volume programs, big deal registration and practice development, and of an Elite mobility program that would offer substantial benefits to VARs with high end skills.
Of course, HP's decision in August to pull the plug on the TouchPad and explore options for WebOS put the kibosh on these plans. And some HP partners are still finding themselves doing damage control as a result of HP's abrupt about-face on tablets.
"This has been a very trying time. Customers hear about the turmoil and drama, and that's reflected upon us," said Cohen Barnes, president and CEO of TBC Net, a Sycamore, Ill.-based solution provider. "If we go through training and certification and invest in a product, we need to know it's going to be something that will be there in the future."
Next: HP's Windows 8 Tablet Future
With HP's tablet plans now linked to Microsoft and Windows 8, DiFranco is once again talking about channel opportunities around mobility, and he holds out the possibility that WebOS could still be a factor in the future.
"The basic strategy is exactly the same: We want to find ways for VARs to add value," DiFranco said. "We do think WebOS is a platform that might allow VARs to do more of that, and that's one of the reasons we're continuing to look at it.
NWN, an HP partner headquartered in Waltham, Mass., was an early WebOS development partner and is making significant investments in developing a mobility practice. Despite the turmoil around TouchPad and WebOS, CEO Mont Phelps is optimistic that HP's tie-up with Windows 8 will have a profound impact on the balance of power in the tablet space.
"Microsoft has the potential, if not the upper hand, of being a predominant OS on tablets for business use," Phelps said. "It's a familiar OS to many organizations and should integrate well in their environments."
Meanwhile, HP finds itself back at square one with tablets, even though last week's decision to keep PSG in the fold does restore a measure of stability to the proceedings. In Bradley's view, now that the PSG matter is settled, HP can now get back to business as usual.
"Clearly, partners value the ability to sell the entire technology portfolio that we offer," Bradley told CRN. "The certainty that we have brought back into the market, and the clarity we've given, will be a big benefit, for all of us."