Be Wary of Quick Fixes - HP, Dell, EDS and Perot Systems
Last week was big news for technology. Hewlett Packard announced it was killing the EDS brand name, pushing to make HP more of an integrated solutions company (like IBM). And Dell bought Perot Systems to launch itsfirst push into services. According to Washington Technology "HP, Dell Know They Have to Change or Die." The article talks about the dramatically shifting marketplace (love that language!), and how these two hardware oriented companies are trying to avoid the Sun Microsystems finality by getting into services. The author says the companies must "adapt or die," and "there's no sitting still." He goes on to say "it may take years," but he thinks they will transition and eventually be successful. His success forecast hinges on his belief that they must change to survive - and that will be sufficient motivation.
I love the awareness of shifting markets, and the recognition that shifts are demanding changes in these former leaders. But I don't agree with the conclusion that future success is highly likely. Because even with big acquisitions and name changes - HP and Dell haven't laid the groundwork to change. They have taken some rifle shots, but they haven't followed The Phoenix Principle and that means the odds are less than 10% they will successfully transition.
Lots of companies have tried to transition via acquisition. Heck, GM once bought EDS (and Hughes Electronics) - and look what it did for them. Just because a company buys something doesn't mean they'll change. McDonald's bought Chipotle, and then sold it despite double digit growth to fund acquisition of additional McDonald's. Just because a company needs to change its Success Formula to succeed - or even survive - is a long way from proving they will do it.
Neither HP or Dell show they are building a company for the future. Unfortunately, they look to be chasing a model built by IBM in the 1990s. Taking action in 2009 to recreate "best practices" of 15 - 20 years ago is far from creating a company positioned for success. There is no discussion of future scenario planning from either company - about technology use or changing business practices. No description of their scenarios for 2015 and 2020 - scenarios that would demonstrate very high growth and payoff from their action. To the contrary, all the discussion seems to be defensive. They are getting into services - finally - because they realize their growth has slowed and profits are declining. It's not really about the future, it's action taken by studying the rear view mirror.
Additionally, there is no discussion of any Disruptions at either company. To change organizations must attack old Lock-ins. Embedded processes - from hiring and reviews to product development and resource allocation - all exist to Defend & Extend past behavior. If these aren't attacked head-on then organizations quickly conform any potential change into something like the past. In the case of these companies, lacking a clear view of what future markets should look like, they have opted to forgo Disruptions. Mr. Gerstner attacked the sacred cows around IBM viciously in his effort to transition the company into more services. But the CEOs at HP and Dell are far less courageous.
And there's no White Space here for developing a new Success Formula aligned with market needs as they are emerging. Instead of creating an environment in which new leaders can compete in new ways, these businesses are being instructed on how to behave - according to some plan designed by someone who clearly thinks they are smarter than the marketplace. Without White Space, "the plan" is going to struggle to meet with markets that will continue to shift every bit as fast the next 2 years as they did the last year.
I have very limited expectations that these actions will increase the performance of either company. I predict organic growth will slow, as "integration" issues mount and "synergy" activities take more time than growth initiatives. They will not see a big improvement in profits, because competition is extremely severe and there is no sign these companies are introducing any kind of innovation that will leapfrog existing competitors - remember, mere size is not enough to succeed in today's marketplace. They will largely be somewhat bigger, but no more successful.
It's easy to get excited when a company makes an acquisition off the beaten path. But you must look closely at their actions and plans before setting expectations. These companies could make big changes. But that would require a lot more scenario planning, a lot more focus on emerging competitors (not the existing, well known behemoths), much more Disruption to knock back the Lock-in and White Space for building a new Success Formula. Without those actions this is going to be another acquisition followed by missed expectations, cost cutting and discussions about size that cover up declining organic growth.