Friday, October 10, 2014

Is HP Split the Right Move?

Last week's big news (well, aside from Kofax pre-reporting disappointing fiscal 15 Q1 numbers) was HP's announcement that it plans to split its software, services, and storage business from its PC and printers business. From what I can tell, it appears to be about an even split revenue-wise. In HP's more recently reported quarter (ended July 31), revenue from Personal Systems and Printing (which will become HP, Inc.) was $14.2B, while revenue from everything else, including Enterprise Group & Services, and Software (which will become Hewlett-Packard Enterprise), was $14.3B. Earnings of $2.7B were similarly split.

So, why is HP breaking up the company? Well, the most straightforward answer was given to me by Chad Stigall, senior manager, solutions portfolio at value-added document imaging distributor Cranel.




And that certainly makes sense, and maybe I'm looking at this from too narrow of a perspective, but my perspective is one that comes the document imaging industry and from the context of that market, I'm not sure splitting up the two business makes sense.

I already felt this way, and then here's the quote I got from Canon's Tom O'Neill last week when working on a story on the latest version of the MFP vendor's uniFLOW fleet management software. "“You’re going to hear more from us on the benefits of an integrated solutions and platform strategy,” he said. “We have several Canon group companies based in Europe, like NT-ware [which develops uniFLOW], I.R.I.S., and Therefore [a document management ISV]—we are able to integrate their technologies with each other, as well as directly into the imageRUNNER ADVANCE platform.

"This will help us create a very strong integrated solutions platform that we believe will relieve a lot of the frustration and pain for our dealers and channel. Nobody wants to have to manage three or four different vendors to create a solution, and Canon understands that. Also, customers aren’t looking to buy a device or software like uniFLOW or Therefore. They are looking to buy solutions to their problems, and we want to provide that to them in a way where the technology is transparent."

So, Canon is talking about combining hardware and software into solutions and HP it talking about splitting up its hardware and software businesses. Lexmark, which continues to roll up software under the Perceptive Software flag, seems to be heading the same direction as Canon. And so is Konica-Minolta, although in its case it is rolling up services businesses to combine with its hardware business. Xerox took a similar approach to KM-although on a much bigger scale when it acquired ACS a few years back, which is now known as Xerox Services and is a very large focus for the copier pioneer.

So, why is HP heading in a different direction than these competitors and spinning off its printer business on its own? Well, for one, the printer business is not being spun off on its own. It's being tied to the PC business--which is ironic if you remember that a few years ago there was a war when some of HP's investors wanted to split off the printer business from the PC business. But, the two were kept together and since then HP has made two huge acquisitions, of EDS (services) and Autonomy (software)--and now the plans are to spin off those two acquisitions as part of Hewlett-Packard Enterprise.

Here's my issue. EDS was acquired in 2008 and Autonomy in 2011- and I really don't think HP has done a good job integrating them into their core business. So, it seems to me they are punting. Really? Is now the time to give up on this integration just when all your competitors are either moving towards this type of model and/or have already achieved it on some levels?

The only plausible excuse for this split from my standpoint is that HP is ahead of the game. In other words, the integration of hardware, software, and services is all a big sham and what every hardware vendor really wants to do is move to a strictly higher margin software and services model and eliminate their hardware. Isn't this what Kofax did when it sold DICOM? And HP is just the first MFP vendor to admit this and dump the hardware-albeit in a fairly graceless fashion.

Now, I'm not saying this is valid, and I certainly don't expect Perceptive to dump the Lexmark hardware business anytime soon, but, really, isn't that what HP is kind of trying to do here?

So, the next move would be for them to pick up the hardware-free Kofax, whose market cap has dipped below $600M and add it to their Hewlett-Packard Enterprise business and move on from there. Where does this leave the MFP/Printer/Scanner business? Well back where it started before any software and services were brought into the mix, and if one is to believe the current trends in the market, that's not necessarily an advantageous place to be.

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