Wednesday, September 30, 2015

September 2015 Observations - Revisiting Splitsville

A rocky stock market during 2015 has not been kind to $HPQ
Revisiting Splitsville – it’s a good thing
During the waning days of September, we are now just a month away from the split of Hewlett Packard ($HPQ) into a Printer and PC Company (HP Inc.) and an equally-sized business, revenue-wise, HP Enterprise, with servers, software and services making up its lines of business. Reports are that the behind-the-scenes efforts to cleave the $100 Billion company into two have been proceeding with “military-like precision”, as CEO Meg Whitman likes to say. As the official day of separation day draws near, at least one financial talking head suggests the move making a $100 Billion behemoth into two $50 Billion behemoths as merely backwards-looking “financial engineering”, with little real innovation taking place these days at the firm which started Silicon Valley way back in 1939. (See Jim Chanos’s charges and Whitman’s defense in this CNBC video.) So what do I think? I am growing in my enthusiasm, especially as I look back at all the positive connotations the word “split” has had for HP during its history.

Reminiscing about the positive nature of splits in the HP culture
I wrote about the announced plan to split a year ago in a guest post at Actionable Intelligence (see “It’s Splitsville in Palo Alto”, ). While the use of the term, “Splitsville”, was intended to be taken in a light-hearted way, I found the characterization of the split as a “divorce” by some other industry analysts as heavy-handed and overly negative, while I remained fairly neutral in my views on the split. Now, as the day gets closer, I have been turning more positive, overall. I think it comes partly from having to do with HP’s story under the microscope lately due to contention over the true history behind the firing of a current-day presidential primary candidate, and the stimulus that has offered to think back to what “split” signified in culture of the “HP Way”, while I was employed there at least (from 1981 to 2005). So as the split-date nears, I am much more inclined to think the cleavage is the right thing to do.
Going back to my first days at HP, I learned quickly from my co-workers at Boise’s Disc Memory Division in 1981, two of the most revered concepts had to do with “splits”. One was the stock split, which regularly followed an also-regular runup in the company’s common stock. It was considered a nearly dead-certain occurrence following year-in, year-out growth and profits. With a generous stock-purchase incentive program, this made everyone happy!
While not "every year", as it felt at times, HP stock splits were frequent, with six between 1979 and 2000
The other very positive outcome associated with the term “split” was the “division split” – the seemingly naturally occurring dividing of a successful business (a “division” in HP parlance) once its growth had taken it to a certain level of revenue, $100 Million being the ballpark number in the 1980s. (The LaserJet division, it should be noted, grew to over $1 Billion by the early 1990s, before its cleavage into Network, Business and Personal divisions.) The division split was the ultimate acknowledgement of success – viewed as a payoff to all involved in the growth of the original unit, and resulted in more management opportunities and professional growth.

Writing a book…or at least reading one
A few weeks after the year-ago announcement, I penned my October Observations, musing that it might be time for me to undertake a modern history of HP in the form of a book. (See "The Other Shoe..."). Inspired by author Eric Larson and full of thoughts about all the big picture meanings of the announced split, I mused that there might be a book project “in there somewhere”. But while that ambition lies fallow, I did go back to a fairly current (through 2010) volume on HP's history, the admirable The HP Phenomenon by Chuck House and Raymond Price. (I referenced the work previously in this blog, in my tribute to Ray Smelek in the post, “How Boise, Idaho Became a Printer Capital”.)
In that text, I found the word “split” mentioned 11 times. It was almost always used in terms of growth and innovation. And speaking of innovation, the late Lew Platt offered his wisdom, transcribed from a speech, and included by House and Price as Appendix D, and titled “Managing Innovation: An Oxymoron?” (As a reminder, Platt was the last of the “home grown” HP CEOs, replaced by the first in a series of relatively short-lived outsiders in 1999.) His comments about innovation bristle with the “HP Way” wisdom of keeping things lean and mean, and breaking things up whenever stagnation started to set in. (His replacement made her stab at success based on what might be argued an opposite aggregation strategy.) Splitting a business, an R&D lab, a marketing department – these all fit with the wisdom of Platt and even go along with his somewhat whimsical title referring to the oxymoron of management of what some would consider an unmanageable process, beyond providing the right environment.

The Printer Group – innovating like always, even better?

So will a “leaner meaner” HP Inc. and HP Enterprise offer more innovation and in turn more shareholder value, overcoming the "conglomerate discount", in the words of current CEO Whitman? To me the early resuts, even ahead of the formal split, give a strong indication the answer is “yes”. Of my most recent blog posts, I have penned three about examples what I consider some of the most customer-oriented innovations in the printer industry that I have seen in a long time. Two of those three were from HP, and cover both the consumer market and the enterprise market. (See “More inkjet customer focus - HP eliminates anxiety" and "HP Printer Group Keeps Minding Customer Needs with new LaserJets for the Enterprise".) And it's interesting to note that the “Enterprise” example will remain with the printers and PC’s in HP Inc., after October 31st. This led me to asking HP a few specific things about some of the alignment details post-split. I will save those questions (and answers) for a (near) future post.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Graham Nash exhibit coming soon to Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

"Got to get back" - to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and their Graham Nash exhibit, opening in October
My July Observations were dedicated to a Graham Nash concert I had seen over the summer (see "CSNY and Printing"), and the connections that Nash has to high-quality fine-arts printing pioneered by a company he helped form in the 1990s, Nash Editions.

Since my post from a couple of months ago, when I promised more about the story in a future Observations, some great news! Starting on October 17, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland will feature a Graham Nash exhibit. "Graham Nash: Touching the Flame" will feature, according to the Hall's website:
Pieces from Nash's heroes and inspirations – the Beatles, the Everly Brothers, Elvis Presley, the Beach Boys, Buddy Holly and Duane Allman – and treasures from his time with the Hollies and Crosby, Stills and Nash come to life as Nash reflects on the visceral and profound impact of the music and world events on him and those around him.
See more - and for now, I imagine my newly made friends at Nash Exhibits are mighty busy getting the show ready, so I will wish them the best and start working on arraninging my trip to Cleveland!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

HP Printer Group Keeps Minding Customer Needs with new LaserJets for the Enterprise

HP Printer Group Keeps Minding Customer Needs with new LaserJets for the Enterprise

Today’s product launch by HP is impressive as the company’s printer group continues with their sharp customer focus. This carries over from the Instant Ink announcement I covered early this month (see “More inkjet customer focus – HP eliminates anxiety"
In the LaserJet/Security case, rather than the end-user, their customer is the IT manager and product specifier. These individuals, as HP and their research characterize them, are ever more concerned about the security of their networks and the nodes on those networks - which include many Enterprise-grade printers and MFPs. HP hired Ponemon Institute to survey more than 2,000 IT security practitioners in North America, EMEA, Asia-Pac and Latin America to help guide their development and launch of the new security solutions, which are also backwards compatible with devices manufactured by HP as long ago as 2011.

For a great story with more details on the solution, I highly recommend "The Best New Defense in Cyber-Security can be found on - Printers", by Arthur Q. Choi in Popular Science.
Included with HP’s launch of three new enterprise class LaserJet printers today are what the company refers to as “built-in self-healing security features with protection down to the BIOS”.  And while this quote (from the sub-head of the press release) seems a little jargon-heavy, reading down the press release a couple of lines, we find these much more customer-friendly statements (attributed to Tuan Tran, HP’s vice president and general manager, LaserJet and Enterprise Solutions business), “Protecting against security breaches is one of the biggest challenges our customers faceHP is helping customers secure their devices, documents and data by defending our enterprise printers with the strongest protection in the industry.”  (My bolds.)
During my long involvement with the tech industry, particularly from the hardware side, it is always challenging to move the internal interest in product development and launch from centering on the latest in terms of “speeds and feeds” – i.e. new hardware features – to solutions and meaningful customer benefits. With this announcement from HP, and others that have recently impressed me (and to be fair, other industry incumbents like Epson – see "Epson's New SuperTank Printers aim at customer pain points"), the printing and imaging industry is showing a great deal of customer focus and savvy.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

More inkjet customer focus - HP eliminates anxiety

After yesterday's monthly Observations post on Epson and their focus on relieving customer pain points with their August Ecotank printer/MFP launch, it's only fair to point out HP's similar approach highlighted today. Their release from this morning on expanding their successful Instant Ink program touts "eliminating ink anxiety" their customers might have, with the program which I have featured in my Observations in the past (e.g. see "Printers as things? Do Printers fit as part of the Internet-of-things" where I observe the Instant Ink program, expanded today, fits with the IoT model.)

Monday, August 31, 2015

August Observations - Epson’s EcoTank Printers make a big splash, for good reasons!

I had to hit Twitter when I first heard the NPR story about the new Epson Ecotank printers
My early-morning routine on most weekdays starts by tuning in to NPR’s Morning Edition. Its interesting news and eclectic feature stories are presented in a more soothing and non-commercial manner than is offered by my next media step in getting my day going, when I join CNBC’s Squawk on the Street for a half-hour of pre-market-open business news and economic assessment of that morning’s world. So I was quite surprised earlier this week, when the former and not the latter chirped in about Epson’s new printers, in a story with co-host Renee Montagne interviewing Wilson Rothman of The Wall Street Journal about his coverage on the benefits of the new products. (The headline of the Journal's article is worth noting - "Epson kills the printer ink cartridge."

On launch day I could not resist tweeting this shameless pun, which garnered a high level of attention on Twitter.
I had been aware of the new Epson products for some time through various backchannels, and was notified by the company that they had officially launched on August 4th. Printer industry coverage of the new products (printers and MFPs) emphasized the feature of high ink capacity of the products, as well as how this is achieved (refillable tanks and non-refillable ink bags, depending on the model) and the result being very economical cost-per-page printing compared to what most users are accustomed to. (Even if the entry price is somewhat higher.) It is tempting, as an industry denizen, to point to Kodak's failed attempt to make a place for itself in the inkjet printing market using a higher-hardware, lower-supplies pricing model.

But the popular press coverage grabbed hold of the benefits, as I have already stated, with less frequent user intervention (i.e. most ink cartridges tend to run dry very quickly, and the new EcoTank/"Supertank" printers can print for two years without fussing with them) - leading to "new standards of convenience and value", as Epson's webpage announcing the products declares (see below). And it all goes to show the truth behind the marketing axiom of advancing a product or solution's benefits - how unmet user needs will be met by the new offering - rather than focusing on the features that lead to the benefits.

All about benefits - classic marketing messaging that delivers meaning and leads to interest and even excitement
At risk of belaboring the point, the text of the email announcement I received on August 4th (launch day) reads as follows, directly hitting on the "pain point" of user intervention.
Today, Epson transforms the $40 billion North American printing market with EcoTank, addressing one of the biggest pain points for small businesses and consumers: running out of ink. To push the limits on convenience and value for color printing, Epson, today, unveils five new all-in-one color printers that come loaded and ready with up to two years of ink the box – revolutionizing the printer industry. 
EcoTank printers deliver unbeatable convenience with ultra low-cost replacement ink bottles and innovative refillable ink tanks for its home and home office models. The high-end small business models come equipped with ink packs that allow users to print up to 20,000 pages.
The NPR story (highly recommended reading and/or listening) also is worth mentioning another time, as it not only covers Epson's new products, but also insight into the market. Its approach was more of a "story behind the story" - highlighting the strong reader response that came the Journal's (and Rothman's) way following their August 4th review (the one with the headline about killing the ink cartridge.) Seems there is a group of users out there who are quite passionate about their printing, even in 2015!

(A footnote - I have always enjoyed this kind of "story behind the story" coverage and have done, as well, and this one took me back to one of my earliest columns (slightly a year after my start), with the tale of the small software company in Portland that gained the attention and praise of the venerable Walt Mossberg, then of The Wall Street Journal as well. See "Making it to the Top of the PR Mountain".)
(And while I am at it - another footnote - regarding my Graham Nash two-parter: In July I posted the first of a two-part exploration of fine arts printing based around curiosity inspired by seeing Graham Nash in concert in early July, and wanting to find out more about his photography and connections to printing, and share that with my readers. I am still on track for that, but in my post I suggested it would follow as my August Observations, which it will not, but stay tuned for September!)

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Intermountain 3D featured on Built in Boise

Proud to announce my first contribution to Built in Boise, a website described as "...writers, photographers, designers, builders and business-owners set out to tell the stories of Boise companies and the people behind them." It was a natural, and builds (pardon the pun) from my February Observations"HP Alums Take On 3D Printing World".

Friday, July 31, 2015

July Observations - CSNY and Printing

When Graham Nash, of CSNY, played Boise earlier in July, I posted on Instagram (no surprise) and I also ended up learning lots about fine-arts digital printing (big surprise)
So if you even comprehend my headline's CSNY reference this month, I am betting you, like me, are a Baby Boomer! And that's a good thing, as far as I am concerned! The acronym stands for the full name of surname-based musical group Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, one of the signature bands from the late 60s and early 70s, which began as (and still sometimes returning to) simply Crosby, Stills and Nash, or CSN, sans Neil Young. Following my attendance at a very enjoyable concert by band founder Graham Nash earlier this month, I ended up making a significant printing connection, in the historical sense, and will share a little of what I came across in doing my follow-up research.

A little more on Boomers

In marketing or related societal analysis, an understanding of the defining characteristics of these three major adult age cohorts (Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials) is critical. It does not take great insight to see that, for example, lots of advertising - if you look in the right places, anyway - is oriented towards the Boomers and our current interests in topics like retirement planning and healthcare. And (see below) while it's easy to toss around these labels, it never hurts to make certain we are clear on definitions. And just a reminder that it's never quite clear – note the overlap in birth years between Gen X and Gen Y, which helps keep us mindful that these definitions a bit fluid. And two further notes on the source – since 2010, the "Generation Y" moniker has been largely supplanted by the synonymous term "Millennials", and alas, that 40% of the population comprised of Baby Boomers has probably slipped a point or two, though our spending power remains huge.

Just to be precise, it all comes down to birth year, and Baby Boomers, according to the Glossary of one of my University's recommended Consumer Behavior textbooks (copyright 2010), are defined as follows:

Baby Boomers
Individuals born between 1946 and 1964 (approximately 40% of the adult population).
Generation X
Born between 1965 and 1979, this is a post baby-boomer segment (also referred to as Xers or busters).
Generation Y
The approximately 71 million Americans who were born between the years 1977 and 1994 (i.e., the children of baby boomers). Members of Generation Y (also known as "echo boomers" and the "millennium generation") can be divided into three subsegments: Gen Y adults (age 19–28), Gen Y teens (age 13–18), and Gen Y kids, or "tweens."
Source: Glossary, Consumer Behavior, Tenth Edition
ISBN: 9780135053010 Author: Leon G. Schiffman, Leslie Lazar Kanuk, Joseph Wisenblit
Most of the world's first look at CSN - later to become CSNY - came via this album cover.

Besides relatively fat wallets, Boomers also have our memories and love for the days of our past and the music that went with it. So when GroupOn emailed with the chance to attend the aforementioned local summer concert by Graham Nash, especially including their little tease (see below), hundreds of local Boomers, including my wife and I, jumped at the chance. Nash's voice and songs are signature elements of the late 60s, 70s and onward, and it was a wonderful show. In the days following (in addition to having "Marrakesh Express" and others tunes stuck in my head), my interest was triggered to learn more about this piece of digital printing history and the role played by Graham Nash in its development.

Graham Nash, the photog

Lodged in the back of my mind that Graham Nash was a photographer as a well as a musician. While there are many famous images involving the band (including the one above from their debut, pre-Young, album), including a few I remembered with Nash and a camera. And then in 2006, shortly after launching my second career, post-HP, as a blogger/analyst, I had a "brush with greatness" as I bumped into, literally, none other than Graham Nash, at the Spring conference of the Photo Marketing Association (PMA) in Orlando. It was one of my first events with press credentials, all very exciting, and it was a "press preview" event in a day-ahead-of-the-main-show which offered the opportunity for press to mingle with vendors and their representatives. It was all quite heady stuff, and bumping into the instantly recognizable Nash made it all the more so!

Nash Editions

Fast forward to 2015 and post-concert, I started to do some digging on what the story was on the printing side of things, going by that little tidbit offered by GroupOn. In addition to an interesting and fun 10-year old story (see "Nash Editions: Fine Art Printing on the Digital Frontier")  that describes the "unmet user needs" (again in homage to my marketing teaching) that Graham Nash experienced when trying to convert his digitally photographed portraits to large format hard copy for a gallery exhibition, and how his colleagues worked with him to get an industry solution that has been evolving ever since.

I was fortunate enough to make contact with two of the co-founders of Nash Editions, who are still there after over 20 years. Their stories deserve so much more than being tagged onto the end of this "discovery" part of my story, so stay tuned for August 2015 Observations for some of the Nash Editions saga.

Graham Nash the artist – as summarized by GroupOn

  • How you know Graham Nash: as the singer-songwriter who shared his talents in The Hollies and Crosby, Stills & Nash, with and without Young
  • 2010: the year he was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire
  • Nash's inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: two
  • How he managed that: he was inducted once with The Hollies, and once with Crosby, Stills & Nash
  • Inductions into the Songwriters Hall of Fame: only one, the slacker
  • Latest piece of writing: his memoir Wild Tales: A Rock and Roll Life
  • Classic Hollies tunes: "On a Carousel," "Bus Stop," and "Carrie Anne"
  • Classic CS&N and CSN&Y tunes: "Marrakesh Express," "Teach Your Children," "Our House," and "Just A Song Before I Go"—all of which were penned by Nash
  • Classic solo tunes: "Military Madness," "Chicago"
  • Everyone needs a hobby: Nash's work as a photographer led to the founding of Nash Editions, which was recognized by the Smithsonian for helping to invent digital fine-art printing.