The last business day for Hewlett-Packard as we've come to know it has almost ended. By 5 PM Pacific, only the Hawaiian operations will still be able to count on a vast product and service portfolio offered by a $120 billion firm. Monday means new business for two Hewlett-Packards, HP Inc. and Hewlett Packard Enterprise. It's possible that splitting the company in half could improve things by half. Whether that's enough will take months to tell.
On the horizon is a battle with the bulked-up Dell, which will integrate EMC as well as massive share of VMware in the coming months. The Dell of the future will be a $67 billion entity, larger than HP Enterprise in sales. Dell is a private concern now, while HP is becoming two publicly traded entities. The directions could not be more different, but HP will argue that demand had better be high for a monolith selling everything.
Dell is extending its offerings to a new level of complexity, but the level of product strategy and technology to comprehend has become too great for this week's massive HP. Hewlett-Packard never controlled an operation this large until the last decade. The company that built instruments and business computers and printers added a PC empire from Compaq. But it had just spun off Agilent two years before that PC merger.
But then after loading up with billions of dollars of low-margin desktop and laptop lines, the HP of the early 21st Century blazed forward into services. Headcount rose by more than 140,000 when Carly Fiorina sold the concept of buying EDS for outsourcing and professional services. The printer business swelled into cameras and even an iPod knockoff, built by Apple. HP's TVs made their way into retail outlets. It seemed there was nothing HP could not try to sell. Some of the attempts, like the Palm OS-based tablets or smartphones, shouldn't have been attempted. Their technology advantages couldn't be lifted above entrenched competition.
HP's CEOs since lifer Lew Platt retired — Fiorina, Mark Hurd, Leo Apotheker, and now Meg Whitman — didn't have much chance understanding the nature of so many products. Three years ago, HP started in the public cloud business, yet another branch of IT commerce aimed to take market share from Amazon. Whitman said in the New York Times that outsiders like her who've tried to lead the company have had too broad a beam of corporate ship to steer.
"This is crazy — Carly, Mark, Léo, me — the learning curve is too steep, the technology is too complex for an outsider to have to learn it all," she said in a story about what's next. The most audacious of HP's enterprise efforts was The Machine, technology that was to employ the near-mythical memristor to "change the future of computing as we know it." This summer the company fell back and said it would build that product with more conventional components and assemblies. It doesn't have a target date for releasing The Machine.