Go on, HP — surprise us this time

Frank Hayes hopes the vendor's latest marketing campaign lives up to its promise

Hewlett-Packard has made a startling discovery. Last month, an HP marketing executive announced that “IT as we know it is really over” and that, going forward, HP won’t be in the information technology business. No, from now on, HP will be in the business of “business technology”.

Or, as one industry analyst explained it, HP intends to shift from selling IT products to solving business problems.

Wow. Imagine that. Who’d have thought a major IT vendor would finally discover what its customers have been doing for decades?

IT is about solving business problems. It always has been.

IT isn’t about PCs or servers. It’s not about networks or operating systems or packaged applications. It never has been, any more than a CEO’s job is about pens and reports and thick carpets and dark oak furniture.

Those are merely the tools of the job. The purpose is to make the business run better. Without that, the rest is just so much junk.

Smart CIOs have always known that. Clever IT managers figure it out early in their careers. There will always be a few IT-shop newbies and obsessive tech-heads who don’t get it, but just about everyone else knows that software and hardware, bits and wires, are just a means to an end. We understand that IT is all about the business.

And we hope, friend marketeer, that you’ll excuse us if we’re not quite ready to believe that you understand that too.

See, for as long as we can remember, you’ve insisted that your PC, your server, your operating system, your network, your software would solve our IT problems. No surprise there, really: products were what you had to sell. It was in your interest to believe they were what we needed.

Some of them were good products. They were useful pieces of technology, and we were happy to buy them from you.

But none of your products were solutions to our business problems. Why would they be? You didn’t know how our businesses run, or what our business problems are. That takes people on the inside — IT people who rub up against the users with the business problems every day, who’ve seen what works here and what doesn’t and why, whose pay cheques come directly from the cash we’re charged to help keep flowing.

Shovelling products through the door is easy. Solving business problems is hard.

We know. We’ve spent our careers doing exactly that — negotiating the intricate complexities of how our specific businesses really work, and figuring out how to make them work better.

So when you announce that “IT as we know it is really over” and that from now on the hot topic is “business technology”, you can understand why we’d be sceptical that you can improve our business operations in non-trivial ways.

Especially when your idea seems to be to truck in a few standardised setups and bundle some services, with the whole works focused on improving your business, not ours.

That sounds a lot like IT marketing as we’ve always known it.

Still, we’re willing to be surprised. We’ll listen. Tell us about this “business technology”.

But if you want to convince us, tell us about something that’s not just business as usual.

Not more products; not cookie-cutter consulting; not same old, same old services; give us something that’s a lot more valuable than the usual suspects.

We’d love to hear that you can guarantee that our businesses will run better. Or that you can solve the subtle process problems that have baffled us. Or that you can even just unwind the business-specific process tangles that give our users — and us — headaches.

None of those seem likely, but show us what you’ve got.

Heck, we’d even be glad to hear that IT marketing as we know it is really over. But we’ll believe that when we see it.

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