Last Friday Softcat held its second annual Q&A with Hewlett Packard Enterprise's (HPE) CEO, Meg Whitman. The customer event, held at HPE's new executive briefing centre in London, was attended by a number of Softcat's customers and featured a keynote speech from the reseller's managing director Colin Brown. Softcat's CEO Martin Hellawell put a number of questions to Meg, who was in the UK visiting a number of partners and customers.
Here's seven things we learnt from our Q&A with Meg Whitman:
Meg stated that the current speed of change in the technology market is unlike anything she has ever seen. The sale of its services division represents the next step in the turnaround of HPE and will enable them to "make the changes that are required to be successful in this new style of IT." Meg noted that while the services market is "very important", not having to divert its focus would allow HPE to put more emphasis on its core competencies, which is not only better for the IT channel, but makes its partnership with Softcat "even more important." Meg added that "more than 100% of the free cash flow of HPE comes from Enterprise Group and Software" so by extension, segregating the Enterprise Services business will further strengthen the core offering by making it nimbler and increasing investment.
HPE is very proud of the IP investments they have made in R&D over the last five years. Despite a focus on getting its cost structure in line, R&D spending has increased every single year, with results starting to "really pay off"; the tech giant made 120 announcements in Q1 alone, ranging from hyper-converged infrastructure to its 3PAR all flash storage array. Antonio Neri, Executive VP at HPE, joined Softcat's customers in the audience and added that he believes there is currently a real focus on computing, productivity and analytics 'at the edge' – a term used to describe the move to more mobile working, pushing applications, data and services from centralised points to the user, at the edge of the network. Neri added that HPE would provide secure hybrid IT solutions through software defined infrastructure with "much more emphasis on the software defined layer while continuing to innovate in the key elements of the datacentre infrastructure."
For a company defined by its passion for innovation, it should come as no surprise that HPE has a busy roadmap. Meg and Antonio named a number of technologies which they believe will be of significant interest to customers (many of which will be formally unveiled/ demonstrated at their Discover event in London, later in the year - https://www.hpe.com/events/discover/)
Application software, specifically their IT Operations Management (ITOM) stack, where automation and orchestration live, has seen significant investment with a focus on developing the user interface to reflect the already impressive back-end and is now meeting the growing demand from Millennials for "beautiful" platforms with a consumer feel.
The strikingly named 'The Machine', which marks the move from CPU-centric to memory-centric compute, will be demonstrated at Discover London and boasts almost ludicrous performance statistics including 160TB and 2000 cores, packaged in a 4U chassis. Meg noted that this particular project had been a long term undertaking with the scope to deliver huge performance coupled with significant power savings.
Meg stated that everything about how IT is bought, paid for, deployed and serviced is changing and that it's the job of HPE to make sure that we are all on the leading edge and are helping our customers transform to a hybrid IT environment. Echoing a point made by Softcat's solutions director, Sam Routledge, who had previously discussed emerging trends and technologies with the audience, Meg added that while fully automated infrastructure was still embryonic in the UK mid-market, automation is a trend that she believes is relatively simple to deploy but can deliver significant cost savings to an organisation.
Meg admitted that the growing trend for customers to shun one cloud provider in favour of "multiple clouds" had come as a surprise, but was a decision she believed would continue. As a result, HPE's primary responsibility is to create infrastructure solutions that deliver, "cloud-like economics and control, on premise", enabling customers to make "application-by-application, workload-by-workload" decisions regarding what goes to the cloud and what stays in the datacentre. Subsequently there is a real need to help customers manage a multi-cloud environment through one pane of glass, something which Meg says HPE can confidently deliver from its software suite, using HPE OneView.
Five years into the turnaround of HP, Meg clearly still has a passion for the company, its culture, employees and the manner in which they "run to the fire – take the heat – fix the problem" for customers. Notable highs include the way in which both HPE and HPI have won in the marketplace, the success of their R&D and ability to 'double-down' on founder DNA through constant innovation coupled with excellent customer service and a strong sense of corporate social responsibility (CSR).
Despite the enormity of separating a $110bn organisation with seven separate lines of business but a shared IT infrastructure across 170 countries, Meg noted that the split of HPE and HPI had gone well and that both organisations were now "off and running, doing more than they would have done independently." HPE's CEO attributed the success of the split to the small number of decision makers who stuck to their judgement and quickly implemented course corrections when required.
Lastly, asked what makes a great leader, an accolade she is unquestionably worthy of, Meg noted a need for 'situation leadership' (a strong sense of what situation the organisation is in), a clear understanding of the company mission and how employees fit into it, a focus on metrics and willingness to "inspect what you expect", excellent communication and somewhat predictably, surrounding oneself with the right people. Meg concluded that company cultures are a "direct reflection of their CEO", a point that had been stressed earlier in the event by Softcat's MD Colin Brown as he explored the value of company culture.
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