CRN Exclusive: Whitman's Campaign To Bring HP Back

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If there is one area where urgency is needed most, it is tablets. HP acquired Palm in July 2010 for $1.2 billion but was unable to bring a single, viable webOS product to market. Meanwhile, as Whitman predicted last November, Apple has overtaken HP for the top spot in global PC sales -- if tablets are counted as PCs. She's still confident that HP and longtime partner Microsoft will be able to get back in the tablet race.

"We have to have a tablet offering. We will be back in that business," Whitman said. "We're coming back into the market with a Windows 8 tablet, first on an x86 chip and then maybe on an ARM chip. I'm pretty sure we'll be able to do that."

Apple sold 15.4 million iPads last quarter and a great many of them to Fortune 500 firms. Yet Whitman said the enterprise-grade security that will be built into HP's Windows 8 tablet -- and which the iPad lacks -- could help it pry customers away from Apple. "I think our sweet spot has to be around security. This whole security thing is a big worry, not just for big enterprises but also for medium enterprises and small and medium businesses," she said.

That may be true, but Apple is not ignoring the issue of iPad security in the enterprise. Through its Mobile Technical Competency, unveiled last year, Apple is leveraging the expertise of Microsoft partners, some of which also partner with HP. MTC sets rigorous technical and security requirements for partners that want to handle large-scale iPad deployments, and Apple has set a goal of recruiting 1,000 Microsoft partners into the program by year's end.

Microsoft, Cisco and Research In Motion all have cast similar doubts on the security of iPads, but any perceived security shortcomings haven't seemed to affect iPad sales. HP will have to come up with other points of differentiation for its Windows 8 tablets and for the possible webOS-based tablet that Whitman has suggested HP may bring to market in 2013. Having Veghte in place as chief strategy officer, Whitman said, will help HP react more quickly to the technology trends facing all its business units, including tablets.

Meanwhile, many partners feel that HP was far too focused on cost cutting and transactional rather than strategic solutions sales under Hurd. At the same time, partners want the change Whitman brings to be gradual so that it will not disrupt their current business.

It is a delicate balancing act, but the long-term strategic approach that Whitman is putting in place is a shrewd one, according to Kristin Rogers, executive vice president of sales and marketing at PC Mall, a Torrance, Calif.-based HP partner.

"Sometimes it feels that the short-term quarterly pressure on earnings works against transformational type changes that are sometimes needed in our industry," Rogers said.

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