Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Resource Allocation and Innovation at HP

HP’s recent decision to sell or spin off its low margin PC business represents a classic problem in strategy to which there are different points of views.

Option 1: Sell the Dogs
In the early years of modern business strategy (the 60s and 70s), the conventional wisdom was to perform a portfolio analysis and analyze the characteristic of your portfolio of opportunities. A common characteristic of such portfolio models, made popular by BCG and McKinsey was the decision to sell off the “dogs” in the portfolio. The dogs were typically characterized as low or negative growth businesses with poor profitability or cash flow.

Option 2: Rejuvenate the Dogs
Over the years, portfolio analysis has leaned away from this first generation view of portfolios and encompassed the idea that mature businesses can be rejuvenated and transformed into more profitable businesses through innovation, increased value added, new business models, tackling untapped adjacent markets, or through expansion into adjacent businesses.
Many have criticized the HP decision to move more in the direction of a services business and imitate the move IBM made earlier away from its personal computer business to a services and solution orientation.

The Value of News About a Company
Others have criticized HP for the clumsy and value destroying way in which it announced its decision to exit the PC, tablet and mobile business. As Regis McKenna, PR guru to Steve Jobs and Apple board member has pointed out in his writings, news about a company is as much part of a product and the perception of its brand and ecosystem value as is product information. This is clearly a lesson that HP has not understood as well as Apple.

But the decision to focus on corporate services rather having two lines of business one focused around business and the other around consumer technology and services shows the importance of thinking about the future, values and vision.

It’s pretty hard to imagine an HP that does not attempt to compete with IBM by offering services and solutions. The EDS acquisition was clearly part of that strategy.

Adjacent and Downstream Innovation
What surprised me personally was that HP would walk away from the products of the digital household. I have two reasons for being surprised:

First, increasingly product innovations for business are born in the consumer sector, where consumers often adopt technologies more quickly than businesses. Businesses are constrained by issues of standardization, support and security. By nature they are often more conservative in their adoption. CD-ROM drives, smartphones and Skype all represent examples of technologies adopted much earlier by consumers. Without a presence in the consumer end of the market, HP will miss many trends.

Second, the consumption of digital devices in the home is likely to be a large and growing area that will encompass many areas outside of HP’s traditional strengths in printers and PCs. There are many dollars at stake. Yes, the barriers to entry are lower and there are many consumer electronics competitors that HP would had to have faced, but the need to develop the design and user interface skills that Apple has demonstrated so ably would have been a significant benefit to HP in all its businesses. The ability to do deals to build ecosystems would also have been a core strength in a world where integration matters.

Centralized vs. Decentralized Innovation
Bob Sutton at Stanford’s engineering school has written about the success of Apple being tied to a centralized command structure and a small product line. 

Reference: http://bobsutton.typepad.com/my_weblog/2011/08/5-warning-signs-apple-has-started-to-slip.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+typepad%2FBobsutton%2Fmy_weblog+%28Bob+Sutton%29

HP’s history is one of decentralized innovation, in a way, a far more difficult culture to create and maintain. The spin-off of the PC business and all the downstream consumer innovations that it would inevitably have seeded may not be the most damaging consequence of this spin off. Rather it is the move away from strong decentralized innovation and impact on HP’s culture that may be the biggest loss.

What Motivated HP’s Decision
Without being party to the discussions on this decision, it’s hard to know which of two factors was more important in the decision.

One factor may have been that the capital costs of maintaining leadership in the business services market may have been the critical issue. HP’s core profit center – printers and ink – is certainly under pressure from competition and the substitution of devices and web servers for paper. If you can download to a computer or tablet, you print less. A networked world needs less paper.

A second factor may be the comfort zone of the new CEO. CEO’s come to the board room table with areas of comfort and discomfort. The rejuvenation of a consumer business is no small task and requires many strong innovators. It would likely take time. 

It would be a terrible shame if the decision to spin out the PC business were driven by the unrealistic time expectations of the stock market, and even worse if it were motivated by the way in which senior management was incented. 

Perhaps the best we can hope for is that HP’s PC division will be spun out and its new management team, newly refocused, can pursue innovation, unbound by the trade-offs of portfolio analysis in a business with radically different business models

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Strategies for Sharing

OK, so I use lots of different social networking and sharing tools. At some point, you have to ask yourself:

1. Am I using too many tools?
2. Am I spending too much time with them to the detriment of real work?
3. Has the world changed so that your personal brand deserves attention as much as a marketing budget and sales activities are required for larger businesses?

The Situation
I mainly use Linkedin, Facebook, my blog (which you are reading), and my two web sites, one personal and one business (www.eclicktick.com and www.alistairdavidson.com)

For research purposes, I track interesting pages with Evernote. With multiple computers, I use Dropbox for exchanging information between machines and with third parties.

What are my decision rules?

First, I try to use new technologies to understand them. That was one of the reasons for putting up my web sites. A particular challenge on my web sites is navigation, so I have experimented with different navigation approaches for accessing photographs and poems on my personal web site. I use a graphical map, categorization by theme, and ratings of quality. It's not social networking, rather it is the classic role of the editor.

Currently, I am experimenting with Twitter, Klout, Tweettronics, Gist and Hootsuite.

Second, I try to distinguish between content with "reader appeal" and content that is narrowly of interest to me. General appeal content I will put up on Facebook. More obscure material that I may use as a reference source in the future for a project or area I work in I will store on Evernote. Longer articles e.g. from consulting firms, I download as pdf files and store in a directory for future sharing. Base upon the number of Likes and comments I receive, I suspect that I put too much up on Facebook.

Third, most of my own writings get put up on my business web site, www.eclicktick.com under Free White Papers.

Fourth, I put very little content up on Linkedin. Linkedin strikes me as a very salesy site. There are a lot of people showing their wares. I use Twitter, linked to Linkedin to highlight my blog posts on the theory that if I bother to write something on my blog, I would like to think I have something to say that may be of interest to others. I also cross post to Facebook.

While Twitter receives a lot of press in the mainstream media, what is most surprising about Twitter is how few people have many followers and how many people have almost no one following them. Using Tweettronics to look at followership, 40% of Twitter authors have less than 15 people following. And if you have several hundred people following you, you are likely in the top 10% of Twitter authors.

As to the question of how much time to spend, I suspect that like all marketing problems, it boils down to short term and long term outcomes. It's surprising how an article or piece of content can generate business years down the road. This lag makes measurement of a personal brand and sales effectiveness difficult. But for the short and medium term, tracking followership, getting reaction from readers and inquires about business or e.g. job proposals on Linkedin is the only measure of whether your personal content strategy is working.

So, if you are reading this post, what are your decision rules? Are you randomly posting and tweeting? Do you have a content or segment strategy for your personal promotion? What decision rules are you using for allocating your time to different tools and topics?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Importance of Execution in Music and Content Sales

I am a great admirer of Amazon.com. I spend far too much there. I use Amazon.com almost exclusively for buying music in spite of also having a subscription to Best Buy's Napster.

One of the reasons I enjoy Amazon (and enjoyment is something many MBAs forget in their 40,000 foot view of strategy) is that when I visit Amazon, which I do every day, they offer free music that I might otherwise not listen to. To be frank, the hit rate is low. Few of the free songs end up in my playlists or my favorites list, but Amazon is a little like college radio, lots of coal and the occasional diamond (which sounds a lot like the addictive behavior of a variable ratio schedule of reinforcement for the followers of behaviorist B. F. Skinner)

This past week, Amazon offered a new album by Barbra Streisand as a promotional item at $3.99. An extended version of the album with more songs was priced at $16.99. I decided against the album, figuring I could always listen to it under my Napster subscription where it would cost me nothing.

But in a rare experience, listening to it on Napster made me fall in love with the album (appropriate given that the album is very sentimental). So I decided to buy the album on Amazon because I prefer the download experience with Amazon - songs get stored in the cloud and the integration with iTunes is better.

But strangely the extended version of the album did not show up in Amazon just the shorter version now back to its price of $9.99. Now it's quite rare that I cannot find something in Amazon, so I bought the extended album at Napster for $16.99

It's a small example, but it does show the importance, and, perhaps, the difficulty of perfect execution, particularly in a software based retailer.

What are the take-aways from this experience?

1. Amazon does not just sell products. It focuses upon the experience of shopping by offering bargains and implicitly recommendations on good or at least new music.

2. Search tools matter. My inability to find the album I was looking for led to a rare lost sale for Amazon.

3. User interface and integration matters. My preference for Amazon is, in no small part, due to its seamless integration of music downloads with iTunes. I find the same integration with my Kindle downloads and Audible. The strength of my preference is reinforced by the ability to store my music in the Amazon cloud (though to be fair it has taken several months for music stored in the cloud to be automatically downloaded reliably to my machine)

4. One of the small annoyances with Napster is that when music is downloaded, it does not end up grouped into a directory under the artist and album. Someone at Napster is not on their toes. I would be relatively indifferent between buying from Amazon and Napster if their download integration were comparable.

5. While Napster is a cloud based music service and exceptionally good value, its marketing people are not keeping up. Offering a service where music can only be downloaded once is not comparable to the Amazon offering where a buyer has the security of knowing his/her music collection is backed up in the cloud or redownloadable in the case of Kindle books or Audible audio books.

It's tough doing e-commerce. You not only need to have a good business model, you need to consider your search engine capabilities, your pricing, the experience you create with customers, user interface and integration issues. It's no wonder that many fail and the best pull ahead.

Friday, August 19, 2011

HP's Decision to Spin off its PC Division

HP’s decision to spin off or sell its PC division strikes me as reflecting badly upon both the strategy and execution of the business.

Consider the following facts:
  • HP is the largest technology company in the world with the leading market share in personal computers. As such it has potential economics of scale, economies of scope, buying power and should have a cost advantage over its competitors.
  • HP is one of the few full service computer providers who can provide a wide range of hardware to business buyers, presumably allowing lower cost of sales and service.
On the negative side, HP’s branding is confused. I have never been clear on what HP’s brands stand for at the overarching level (what is the difference between Compaq brand and HP brand?), or at the product line level – there is very little successful branding to communicate different value propositions to different types of buyers.

Perhaps the biggest sign of problems in the HP brand is its lack of innovation. Why for example was HP so late to the tablet market? What was its offering reviewed as slow and buggy? How can major companies launch buggy products with anticipating consequence? Even if you are late to market, it’s a bad idea to create negative word of mouth from early adopters and reviewers. It’s negative viral marketing.

Perhaps the biggest condemnation of HP’s innovation is to ask the question why it cannot even design an equivalent to the Apple Airbook. It’s pretty obvious to anyone who has travelled with a computer, that less weight and small form factors are desirable. It was a need obvious before the Airbook was launched. It was obvious when the first generation of Airbook was launched. It is even more obvious today with the second generation of Airbook.

There are other reasons to be critical too. If a company like HP decides to compete against a large and dominant competitor such as Apple in the tablet market and it is not prepared to develop a superior product offering, it must anticipate a long uphill battle. To launch a product and then give up on it quickly suggests either that the company lacks a long term plan or that it seriously underestimated its competition. Even worse, in the consumer market, competition is based upon ecosystems. Lacking an explicit ecosystem strategy to compete with a dominant competitor’s ecosystem is a recipe for disaster.

HP claims that profitability is a major reason for spinning off the PC division. But profitability is under the control of management. If Apple can command premium prices for ease of use, for design, for their integrated ecosystem, why can’t HP? Lack of profitability represents a failure to seek superior value and obtain the pricing that superior value claims.

Research on new product innovations suggests that the single largest predictor of new product success is offering a differentiated high value product. HP seems not to have understood this lesson.

Perhaps the fundamental reason for HP’s lack of success is explained by research on product managers. Some researchers suggests that companies with strong and senior product managers who are both accountable and given authority produce better products and bring them to market faster. In organizations where the product manager is less experienced, has little authority and plays a more coordinating role, products take longer to get to market and are of lower quality.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Public Speaking and Presentations: Eleven Thoughts

I attended a presentation this week where two people spoke. The first had no slides and his presentation seemed to be an ill thought out musing on his personal enthusiasm for his current role. The second bored us to death with an ill-conceived and disorganized presentation on his attractive sounding software.

By way of background, I have done many presentations in my career, some good, some bad. I have also received media training and done both radio and TV interviews with the benefit of a PR person to coach me. And I, in turn, have trained and coached sales people and distributors, consulted to firms who develop sales and sales training materials, helping them develop and deliver presentations, videos and sales pitches.

So, let me offer some simple rules about presentations for those who have not received training.

1. Prepare. There are very few people in the world who can stand up and interest a crowd. You are probably not one of them. If you were, you would probably be on stand-up comic circuit. I think it was Voltaire who apologized to a client on the extreme length of a book. He explained that shorter takes longer. It's also true with presentations.

2. Figure out in advance what message you would like to implant in the audience. Most people immediately forget what they have read or heard. So, you need to figure out what number you want them to remember, what picture you want them to be able to reproduce, and what story want them to be able to tell to their spouse, their boss, or their colleagues.

3. Don't assume that your audience knows what you know. Start with the basics so that even those in the audience who are not experts can get something out of the presentation.

4. Quantify. People are generally more interested in the implications of something than the something. I recently did some work with a major communications equipment vendor in the area of fixed mobile convergence. One of the exercises I did was to calculate the net present value over ten years of having voice calls diverted from congested cell towers to a WiFi connected call which went over the fixed broadband connection in the home or office. It turned out to be worth as much as $3.2B per million customers. Translating the general unquantified benefit to a number gets people's attention. It's not easy sometimes to come up with number, but more often that not, you can. Personal benefits matter too. For many managers, not getting fired for making a poor purchasing decision is an important issue. So, if you are a minor player and the client has committed to using a well established vendor, don't compete directly, pursue an indirect method of entry into the company.

6. Showing people software is generally extremely boring. My belief is that if you can't sell a piece of software without showing it, you are not very good at selling. Show the ideas behind the software so people can understand what is going on. If you are going to do a demo, automate it, practice it or use a canned slide show. Don't waste people's attention and time. If you do, you will lose them -- they will drift off and play with their tablet or phone.

7. Don't be confused. Most people don't buy software because it is better. They buy it because of momentum. So talk about momentum, your ecosystem, your backward compatibility and product evolution. Your software may well be the best thing since sliced bread was invented, but people tend to make decisions on technology momentum. If the technology is better but unsupported and lacking a long term future, it does not matter if your technology is better, unless it is orders of magnitude better. And if it is magnificently better, then it is likely only going to appeal to a niche.

8. Ask the audience questions. It gives you a chance to both wake them and keep them involved. It also allows you to gauge their level of knowledge.

9. Don't talk about yourself, your programs and how you are personally excited about everything your company is doing. Excitement should be the result of your presentation not a personal description of your emotional state.

10. Make the presentation easy to retrieve. Provide a web address from which it can be retrieved.

11. If you do a question and answer session, repeat the question before replying, so that those in the audience who could not hear the question have some idea on what you are replying to.

There are, clearly, many more guidelines, but these eleven seemed particularly obvious after the presentation this week.