CRN Exclusive: Whitman's Campaign To Bring HP Back

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In Whitman's view, what the channel wants most from HP is a "steady, reliable, predictable" vendor partner. In another thinly cloaked reference to the strategic confusion of her predecessor, Whitman acknowledged that HP's moves last August were an unacceptable departure from these ideals.

"[Partners] have bet their businesses and livelihoods on us, so it's not great when we make sudden and unanticipated changes," she said. "They need visibility into the product road map, they need visibility into HP's strategy, because in some ways we are completely joined at the hip when we go to market."

In HP's view, well-informed partners are going to be best equipped to go out and win business from rivals. And in keeping with HP's PartnerOne program messaging, Whitman suggests that partners that lead with HP will reap the most rewards. "The economics [of the channel] work for us, for the most part," she said. "Obviously we want to support the partners who support HP the most."

On Wednesday Whitman will give her first keynote address to partners at HP's Global Partner Conference, which takes place in Las Vegas from Feb. 13-15. She also has invited a select group of partners to attend an executive roundtable session at the event, in which all questions are fair game. Partners see this as a sign that Whitman is not going to shy away from issues of importance to the HP channel.

"It's a sign of great leadership that she's asking partners to assemble and creating an 'anything goes' atmosphere with no limits to the discussion," said John Convery, executive vice president of vendor relations and marketing at Denali Advanced Integration, Seattle. "She does not want a room full of 'yes' people."

Whitman's steady hand has been a welcome relief to partners that have made big investments in the company. Dasher Technologies COO John Vigliecca feels much better about his company's prospects for future growth after a meeting with Whitman at HP's headquarters in January. HP comprises the majority of the revenue that Dasher Technologies, Campbell, Calif., drives as a business and the company's sales were up 50 percent in 2011.

"Based on what we've seen from Meg so far, HP has been much more consistent over the past four to five months, and that gives us reason to believe that growth will continue," Vigliecca said.

Whitman also must tackle organizational and technology issues that threaten HP's status as the world's largest technology company. Some of these are longstanding issues that partners said could only be fixed through the type of forceful leadership that has been absent at HP in recent years.

For years, partners and customers have complained about the difficulty of doing business with HP and the silos that exist within its organizational structure. The situation grew worse under Apotheker, partners said, as business units, emboldened by his wobbly leadership, pursued their own market strategies and channel engagement paths.

John Gunn, president and CEO of ISG Technology, a Salina, Kan.-based HP partner that serves customers throughout the Midwest, said Whitman's first priority should be bringing a "fragmented company together."

"If the business units continue to work as independent businesses instead of as one company, there won’t be an HP in 70 years," said Gunn. "It will have been split into four or five companies. I am an operational type. I think they need to get their house in order now before thinking about what to do in the future."

Arlin Sorensen, CEO of Heartland Technology Solutions and HTG Peer Groups, an HP SMB specialist that has been in business for more than 25 years, said HP's silos are creating big problems for partners. "They create chaos in the channel with direct and business unit reps, many of which are unaware of each other, and either flood us with coverage or are absent for months," he said. "I'm hoping that she can do the hard work of bringing all the parties to the table, throwing out agendas and doing what is right for the marketplace and for partners."

Each HP business unit has its own channel chief, and partners with large deals spanning multiple business units have said it is difficult to find support within HP when channel conflict arises.

NEXT: Partners On Doing Business With Cisco Vs. HP

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