CES 2014: HP Outlines Android, Chrome Vision For The Channel

Thomas Jensen

Is Hewlett-Packard big enough for Microsoft and Google operating systems?

According to the technology giant, the answer is yes. HP this week continued to expand its multi-OS strategy at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show with the introduction of an Android-based, all-in-one desktop, the HP Slate21 Pro AiO. And while HP also introduced several Windows-based devices, it was the company's Android move that drew the most attention.

The HP Slate21 Pro is the latest product from HP to embrace Google's operating systems; the company last year expanded its portfolio with its first-ever Chromebook and Android tablets. But can Android and Chrome products work in the commercial channel? And are HP partners interested in those kinds of devices?

CRN spoke with Thomas Jensen, vice president of worldwide channel sales at HP's Printing & Personal Systems (PPS) Group, at CES to find out what the company has planned for its multi-OS strategy and how HP is leveraging new mobile devices to appeal to channel partners. Here are excerpts from the conversation with Jensen.

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HP's announced a number of new computing devices, not just here at CES but in previous months. How does PPS' product strategy play into HP's overall channel approach?

Jensen: Our announcements at this show are part of many recently that are driving toward making it easier for partners to do business with HP. The positive experience we've had over the past one-and-a-half years from the change we've been undergoing in the channel organization has been driven by partners actually longing to grow with HP. And that's the best platform we'll ever have to drive our business moving forward. So product development and innovation are really playing a key role with the channel right now with what you've seen not only with the new Android products like Slate21 but also with our latest Windows products. It's really about products that are designed for channel partners.They're playing very well in the SMB market, and they're playing a key role in getting channel partners back in the game with us.

The different form factors of mobile devices, and the kind of product and technology development we're doing, and the fact that we're now investing in innovation and coming out with the right products that are suited for our customers' needs -- it all makes the channel more enthusiastic to work with us. And that is, from our perspective, really a fantastic experience. We're still very humble about the baggage we're carrying from the last five years with the less innovative and less channel-centric strategies. But we're enthusiastic because we have the innovation and we have a clear strategy, and our partners want to work with us.

HP has employed a multi-OS strategy. Is there room in the channel for both Windows and Android/Chrome?

Jensen: Yes, absolutely. We're a multi-OS vendor and we’ve chosen that strategy because the customers are demanding that. Everyone talks about consumerization and bring-your-own-device. In the commercial space, you see some early movers on BYOD but we actually believe more in choose-your-own-device. There's no doubt that our customers, in the SMB market as much as the enterprise, want attractive products. Right now, employees are floating between work and home life, so they want the smart, mobile form factors with attractive designs that are also durable. At the same time, for us it's really important that our customers have the full features of a commercial product: manageability, sustainability and -- probably most importantly because of the cloud -- security. We're really reinventing ourselves to bring all of that forward.

Should partners be exploring other operating systems like Android and Chrome?

Jensen: I think they definitely should. And it goes back to customer needs. Our channel partners, just like us, are aiming to deliver the best possible solution because that's what creates customer loyalty. With changing form factors and changing operating systems, you can fulfill different needs. One of things we're focused on in the computing space is the differentiation between your need to consume and create. If you have creation needs around data processing or graphics, then you're probably looking at our enterprise server or workstation space. We need to continue to drive that business, and that's typically a Windows environment. On the consumption side, you have so many different form factors now. And you're focused more on Internet connectivity and battery life, and you may not have the same computing power needs. Google has done a great job in that space with both Android and Chrome; their Chromebooks are a fantastic opportunity. And so is Windows 8 -- you just have different preferences depending on the consumer in that space.

Going back to the changing form factors of mobile devices, what do you see happening with the usage of tablets in the commercial space?

Jensen: I think there are very different usage patterns today for tablets than just a year or two ago. A lot of it is driven by the technological capabilities of the devices; cloud computing, for example, has been a big part of that. If we jumped back two years, I'd be carrying my laptop right now. Now I carry my smartphone and my tablet, depending on what I need to do. When I go into a meeting, I bring my tablet and take notes on it and check my email. I don't take my laptop, despite the fact that they are so much lighter and thinner today. When I really need to do work, I use my laptop. So the usage patterns have definitely changed, and I think we're seeing a new generation of commercial customers that have grown up in a different time.

NEXT: Hybrids, Windows 8.1 And Partner Program Changes

What about hybrid devices or 2-in-1s? Does HP see that as a major opportunity?

Jensen: Oh, absolutely. We see a huge need for hybrids because you can still have decent computing power but also have the mobility and ease-of-use of a tablet. And in the commercial space, we've seen a lot of hybrids being used for presentation purposes. So instead of using a traditional laptop clamshell design to display something and then have to turn it around to face you, I can just table my hybrid and convert it [to tent mode, for example]. So it's really taking off.

What's the challenge then for solution providers looking to up their business in the mobile device market?

Jensen: I think for partners, the challenge is to choose from the assortment of devices out there and find something that fulfills customers' needs. Because you can swamp yourself in a product nightmare where you suddenly increase your product inventory, and that makes it harder for your sales staff to sell and it makes it harder for your customers to choose. So one of things we're really working on is helping partners with their value proposition in choosing the right devices.

It's also about adapting to the needs of the user. If you go back a few years, a commercial laptop was not the hottest and sexiest product. I used to do end-user sales, and I've met with many CIOs and IT managers who had a lot of pain because their employees would see a laptop at Best Buy and say, 'I want that one, it's hot and sexy!' But they can't put that laptop in the network, it's not secure and it's not manageable, so it doesn't make sense for the company's total cost of ownership. So what we've done is built designs that are fully competitive with a consumer product and adapted it to commercial needs with the right features. And we're working closely with our channel partners to bring them out to the market.

What about Windows 8? From a channel perspective, has Windows 8.1 made a difference for partners?

Jensen: Well, that's actually a two-part answer. There are mobile devices, and there are notebooks and desktops. There's also a difference in the customer type between commercial and consumers. Enterprises and corporate customers are typically slow adopters; as much as we and Microsoft would like to drive more Windows 8 adoption together, history tells us that upgrading to a new operating system is a slower pace on the commercial side. That's for PCs. Now on the tablet side, there's a unique opportunity for HP and our partners to sell a new device that is adaptable to the same environment and infrastructure. And we're actually seeing an increased interest from both partners and customers to engage Windows 8 on the tablet side since Windows 8.1 was introduced. And in that respect, this could even mean we could have a quicker transition from one operating system to the new one in the enterprise space; SMB is slightly different because they have less complex IT environments and tend to transition quicker. So I think the enhancements we've seen with Windows 8.1 have improved things.

With the new products and multi-OS strategy, will there be any accompanying channel strategy or partner program changes on the PPS side?

Jensen: With the announcements we made this week, we have a very solid technology platform. And that's going to continue to develop, and you and I can only imagine what we're going to bring out next year. The speed of innovation is just tremendous right now. I think the key focus for us is to continue the journey with our channel partners -- simplicity, profitability and predictability. We’ve revamped our partner program and we have the attractive products [on the PPS side] that partners want to sell. We've made a radical change to our channel strategy and how we work with partners. I met with some of our Asian partner community in October, and they were all asking what's next for the partner program. And I told them I promised stability and predictability. And they're getting that right now. But we're going to make small tweaks and changes along the way because we're not home safe yet. We have growth ahead of us, and we have to grow together. So we're looking at things like pricing strategies, marketing and partner enablement for leads. So we're reversing the way we look at the partner program. We made the big changes already, so now we're making the tweaks we're hearing about partner pain points. They're giving us the feedback to make those small changes to improve. We have the program, we have the technology, and now we're looking at how we're operating with partners.