I'm at HP's annual conference this week, HP Discover 2012. I've been at a number of these over the years from CEOs who were grown inside HP and struggling to deal with a then-changing world, to CEOs who were more about flash than substance, to CEOs who were on their last legs.
Meg Whitman has one of the more difficult jobs and she is clearly feeling the pressure. She is the latest in what has been an unfortunate string of leaders who were out of touch, lost interest early, had fidelity issues and were mostly unqualified for the job. Whitman has to showcase an HP that is more about customers and technology than it is about what has been a decade of drama. Part of the drama is the nasty break-up with Oracle, which has been attempting to beat HP to death with a FUD stick. These are nasty times and HP is a company at war.
Here is how she did.
At the core of her presentation was the idea that technology needs to be like a utility: always available, always working and always getting the job done. A sense that from technology CEOs like Meg to CIOs, the choice is to drive change or to be disrupted by it. One of the early HP proof points was an example of HP employees in war zones, in body armor, going where needed to keep technology running and to help get the job done despite personal risk.
Another example was the Bank of India, which implemented an HP solution and got better than a 200 percent return on investment and a break even in under two years. This was a multi-million-dollar, mission-critical deployment in a difficult environment.
This is at the core of HP's "Make It Matter" tagline, driving the company to work as a company to address those problems that need to get done.
Cloud, security and information optimization. Cloud is about scaling, trust and the lack of lock-in. This is the new "mission critical" for a growing number of companies and it is the one with the greatest need to be mobile because the cloud is about providing access to anything from anywhere.
Security efforts recognize that there is an arms war between hackers and computer companies and that a solution needs to be comprehensive in both depth and breadth, providing flexible, adaptable protection to HP clients.
Information optimization is about analytics and the growing recognition that executives don't just need to struggle with managing data; they need to translate that data into actionable information.
These pillars are consistent with pretty much every vendor in HP's enterprise space.
Jeffrey Katzenberg took over the keynote from Whitman to talk about its relationship with HP and led with video from a decade earlier where Katzenberg attempted to share the stage with a lion who suddenly got frisky. He was saved by some fast-moving handlers and this became a metaphor for DreamWorks and HP. The technology has been like that lion: powerful, but often unpredictable. HP has been right there dragging the technology around to make it work and he credited them with assuring DreamWorks' success. Evidently, Katzenberg has known Whitman for some time, having worked together at Disney and he had put her on his board at DreamWorks.
This was a strong testimonial in that he praised her as a person, as a manager, a successful entrepreneur and as a CEO with the prop being his early placement of her on his own company's board. He ended with a demonstration of where animation came from and the days of early Disney to where it is now in near-photo realism. The near-term step was to 3D, which massively increased the difficulty and the file size and in 2009 DreamWorks became the first studio to go 100 percent 3D with HP's critical help.
This is a massively data-centric industry. It starts and ends with data and DreamWorks is one of the leaders in creating real-time animation. To provide perspective, it currently takes a top animator a week to draw digitally 3 seconds of a movie. With HP and Intel's help, DreamWorks is planning to revolutionize this industry with real-time animation. Seconds of animation go from weeks to minutes and massive numbers of animators per movie will go from hundreds to tens and movie production costs should plummet and volume skyrocket.
These are all things that HP has been helping drive and DreamWorks is, according to Katzenberg, the largest digital animation company in the world today and he credits HP with making that happen.
It is very unusual to have a top customer actually do much of the CEO's keynote but what better to provide a proof point than showing that HP can do what it promises? The CEO is going to speak the company line, the customer is putting its money where HP's mouth is and that is strong validation. This is an interesting approach to a keynote for, while it is limited to the one unique solution, it prevents what often can be a self-serving keynote with low credibility, and provides a near-religious testimonial from a customer who has been a long-term and successful customer.
In the end, this is both a reminder that customers are more important than technologies and that they can be used powerfully as advocates. Sometimes change can be a good thing. Katzenberg ended by bringing up a guy in a lion costume, perhaps suggesting that maybe it would be wise to choose technology that won't try to eat you.