Hurd's internal IT plan has unfair advantages

HP can tap into a wealth of IT expertise from its labs and other departments that would be the envy of most CIOs

I don’t think he mentioned the term “dog food” in his keynote speech at HP’s Technology Forum and Expo in Las Vegas last month, but that’s obviously what Mark Hurd is preparing to feed his employees.

The company chief executive reportedly outlined a plan that will see it bring the cost of maintenance down to 20% of IT spending, down from the 70% it takes up currently. Power and cooling will also be reduced by 50%, he promised. All of this despite a projected (though unspecified) cut to HP’s internal IT budget. Far from being satisfied by proving HP can be financially viable in its post-Carly Fiorina incarnation, Hurd wants to make it a model for its own customers. This is the eat-your-own-dog-food approach taken to new heights.

On the one hand it makes total sense for a technology company to turn itself into a case study. HP in particular will have compelling “before” and “after” pictures to show, given its problems with SAP’s ERP system, among other things. Oracle did the same thing several years ago, with Larry Ellison bragging to anyone who would listen about the billion dollars he saved by consolidating datacentres (and this was long before it became a datacentre trend). Besides offering some credibility to its sales people, the eat-your-own-dogfood approach suggests customers that don’t follow suit are simply keeping their heads in the sand.

Then again, some customers might bristle at the kind of example HP is setting. In the same way celebrities tend to lose weight a lot faster than the rest of us, vendors have some advantages that user organisations might not. Oprah Winfrey has a personal chef and a personal trainer to keep her trim. HP has a CEO who is setting technology-business alignment and operational efficiency as a strategy, which is much different than the lack of executive support that some IT managers face. HP may be cutting its budget, but it probably has access to top-of-the-line products that are barely out of the gate, while the rest of the industry struggles with legacy systems. Most importantly, HP can tap into a wealth of IT expertise from its labs and other departments that would be the envy of most CIOs.

Of course, some enterprises get part-way there through buying new products and developing new strategies. HP, like many other firms, is happy to single out these success stories. But there’s a difference between a renovation and an extreme makeover, and nowhere else does a vendor have licence to start from scratch than within its own environment. Hurd’s vision reminds me of the film Supersize Me, where a young, obese teenager tells Subway spokesperson Jared she can’t afford to buy a low-fat submarine sandwich every day. He offers little in the way of alternative, but vendors are happy to give more ideas for the right consulting fee.

There’s nothing wrong with HP eating its own dog food, or for IT managers to take away lessons from the results. Everyone just needs to keep in mind that vendors will eat more of their own dog food than most. The rest of us find it harder to digest.

Schick is a reporter at Computerworld Canada

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