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Partners Anxious To Hear Dell, Whitman Insights On Industry Turmoil At BoB Conference

Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman and Dell CEO Michael Dell are set to speak before channel partners at next week's Best of Breed Conference. The planned fireside chats come at a time when the IT landscape faces major changes.

Next week, in a rare meeting of rival CEOs, Meg Whitman and Michael Dell are set to face-off and make their cases to several hundred channel partners on why their vision to transform the IT industry trumps the others amid massive industry upheaval.

Dell is set to speak Monday, while Whitman is expected to take the stage Wednesday at the Best of Breed (BoB) Conference in Orlando, Fla., presented by CRN parent The Channel Company. It will be Whitman's first public appearance since announcing Hewlett-Packard's blockbuster split this week.

Channel partners will have ringside seats as The Channel Company CEO Robert Faletra holds fireside chats with each executive to get their takes on how the fast-moving market is reshaping their companies and how it will affect channel strategies going forward.

[Related: Whitman, HP Execs Field Tough Questions From Partners On Split]

For channel partners attending the conference, the showdown is a chance to hear two "tech titans" battle it out and share their IT visions for tomorrow.

"Michael Dell and Meg Whitman are really polar opposites right now. Meg is in charge of a public company that is trying to be more nimble by splitting into two. Michael, on the other hand, is now trying to pull his business together as a private company," said Tom Richer, chief sales and marketing officer at CRA, a New York City-based managed service provider, who will be attending the conference.

"There are four mega-trends taking place in the industry right now -- cloud, social, big data and mobility -- and I'm interested in hearing what these tech titans have to say about them," Richer said. "There are so many wrong directions you can make in IT right now. Meg and Michael are so far ahead of the industry, I rely on their leadership to help guide us to where to take our product roadmap."

HP and Dell both face pivotal junctures in their companies' histories. On Monday, 75-year-old HP announced a massive restructuring that will cut the $112 billion company into two, spinning its computer and printer operations off from its enterprise hardware and services business.

Dell is dealing with its own massive transition as a public company to a private company that is more reliant on channel partners than ever before. Dell has put an IT stake in the ground, announcing ambitious plans to transform the PC maker into an end-to-end IT powerhouse.

"This conference only goes to show and prove the power of the channel," said Bob Venero, CEO of Holbrook, N.Y.-based solution provider Future Tech Inc., No. 234 on the CRN SP500. "The channel has everything to do with the success of both of these organizations. Michael has been doubling down on the channel for the past six years exponentially. There is no doubt that the channel is going to make or break the direction that both of these companies are going in."

NEXT: Conference Backdrop Includes Massive IT Industry Flux


The backdrop to next week's showdown is an industry that has solution providers navigating an era of disruption far more complex than anything it has witnessed in the past.

The IT landscape has been rattled by a half-dozen IT companies -- including HP, Symantec, eBay and Juniper -- announcing splits in the past few weeks alone.

Venero said he is interested in hearing whether Dell and Whitman expect the volatility that has marked 2014 with numerous companies splitting up and spinning off will continue into 2015.

"I am interested in hearing what an industry giant like Michael sees in terms of volatile changes in organizations going forward," he said.

Michael Goldstein, conference attendee and president and CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based HP and Dell partner LAN Infotech, said he is excited to hear Dell and Whitman's channel commitment strategies at the conference.

"Reading about the Dell and HP channel strategies is one thing, but looking them both in the eye to see how committed they are to the channel is something entirely different," Goldstein said.

A healthy rivalry and differing views between HP and Dell will also color next week's showdown. Both companies have recently upped the ante when it comes to lobbing barbs at one another.

Marius Haas, Dell's chief commercial officer and president of enterprise solutions, in a note to Dell channel partners Thursday, ratcheted up a war of words against archrival HP. He blasted the company for its plan to split into two and called the move an "uncertain strategy" that would add "instability for customers and partners."

The Dell digs come on the heels of months of badgering by HP where it threw barbs at Dell's privatization strategy and said it would create weakness within Dell's channel as it grappled with its $24.9 billion leveraged buyout.

For other partners it's not about the rivalry or corporate restructuring as much as it is about the products.

Attendee Steve Tutino, president of Ann Arbor, Mich.-based HP partner Ipanema Solutions, said he trusts both companies will land on their feet amid their restructures. He is interested in what specific products and technologies his business can count on from either company.

"I don't care what is going on in their company," Tutino said. "I think both have lost focus on products that count. If HP needs to split into 20 companies to be more innovative and deliver good products, than fine. Show me the new products."

Whitman is set to talk about HP's split and how that will impact partners. She will also stress how it plays into HP's so-called New Style of IT, which is short-hand for the company's focus on working with PartnerOne solution providers to focus on emerging IT opportunities in cloud, security, big data and mobility.

Michael Dell is expected to discuss his company's bolstered commitment to the channel and offer Dell's focus on being an end-to-end enterprise vendor that offers customers a product roadmap from the desktop to the datacenter.

Solution providers can see live streaming broadcasts of the Dell and Whitman keynote sessions and stay up to date on all of the stories from the BoB conference by going to the ITbestofbreed.com.

PUBLISHED OCT. 10, 2014

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