Thursday, May 31, 2012

May Observations - The Burning Platform



also published in The Hard Copy Observer, May, 2012


Observations: The Burning Platform

[May 31, 2012] Business metaphors come and go, though often at a surprisingly slow rate, especially in this world of 24-hour news cycles accompanied by instantaneous tweets, feeds, posts, and the rest. So when I recently saw one of my old favorite metaphors (“burning platform”) in what could go down as a landmark article, I began to reflect on when I had used that phrase in the past, what the metaphor really means, and how the phrase relates to the current day, industry-wide situation. The use of the metaphor also led me to affirm why I am so excited to be the co-director of the brand new Digital Workflow Transformation Advisory Service (DWTAS) that Photizo Group announced earlier this month.


Having spent 25 very happy years as an employee of Hewlett Packard, and seven years since following them as a printing and imaging industry writer and analyst, almost any material about HP will catch my interest. And the recent article, titled, “How HP lost its way”, was one that did. Though dealing little with the printing and imaging leader’s specific situation in our business, Fortune’s coverage contains a great amount of background and history on the firm’s 2011 CEO turnover, when HP ousted Léo Apotheker (or, phonetically, as Fortune explains, “LAY-o AH-po-teck-er”), and board member and former eBay CEO and would-be California governor Meg Whitman took over the top job.

In the article, writer James Bandler (assisted by Doris Burke) includes the following passage, with a quote from the former CEO, in the context of HP’s controversial Autonomy acquisition—one of Apotheker’s final straws—but relating to the company’s overall strategic dilemma.

Apotheker appeared before the board and conceded that it was a tricky deal, one that might hurt HP's stock price in the short run. But then the usually formal CEO made an emotional personal appeal. "This company is a burning platform," he told the directors. HP needed a new vision. He concluded: "I cannot do this alone. I need your support. We're going to have to hold hands and go through this together."

The “burning platform” metaphor was one we used around HP in the 1990’s as we looked at our printer business and discussed the sense of urgency around looming threats and the change that needed to be adopted throughout the printing group, following a stunning decade-plus of success. I chronicled some of that strategy and evangelism work in a recent post (see “Observations: The Lasting Power of a Good Strategy…Or Two!”) when I compared HP’s current printing and imaging strategies to those we came up with in the mid-1990’s and found a great deal of resemblance between them. In those days, we first developed concepts like “distribute and print” and “corporate printing services,” which though modified a great deal, have fundamentally met the test of time. And I might add that even as the business was reshaping itself back then, the “burning platform” mentality never really took hold, with careful but optimistic planning and product development winning out, and and continuing on with much of the growth we were accustomed to.

Going back to the Fortune article, the nearly 8,000 words cover very little about HP’s Printing and Imaging Group (IPG) per se, though lots of the cultural backdrop is relevant. Also of interest is the mention of long-time IPG leader Vyomesh Joshi’s Spring 2012 departure, cast in harsher terms than we’ve seen before (“[Whitman] forced out longtime printer head Joshi, merging his unit into the PC group.”).

But in recent months, it has become pretty clear that indeed, the printing and imaging situation, within HP and throughout most of the rest of the industry, relates to the “burning platform” metaphor quite well. (My simple definition of the meaning of the phrase, for business, is “there’s no more standing still or status quo – it’s time to move!”) Just last week, HP’s Second Quarter 2012 results showed year-over-year double-digit-percentage drops in hardware and supplies revenues. We can look beyond the industry leader to find alarming data in many areas, including the overall macro metric of worldwide printed pages printed continuing to shrink.
Print volumes continue their annual slide
With this industry-wide concern in the air, I am delighted to be doing something that speaks directly to it. On May 24, the Photizo Group announced a new advisory service, the Digital Workflow Transformation Advisory Service (see “Hard Copy Industry Faces Upheaval as New User Technologies Disrupt Traditional Business”, ) that will focus on providing metrics and guidance on the future of imaging and printing, tapping into the quantitative and qualitative resources of Photizo, which of course includes the resources of Lyra Research as well, part of Photizo since January 2012 (see “Observations: Looking Ahead and Enjoying Coming Full Circle in the Research/Analyst World”).

As mentioned, I am honored to be serving as co-director of the service, along with Charles LeCompte, a good friend, industry luminary, and founder of Lyra. We have just returned from the flagship North American Photizo conference, Transform 2012, held in Orlando, Florida, where the new service announcement was accompanied by great enthusiasm from clients. I look forward to contributing my best thinking and hard work toward the research and direction we will offer to lead the industry off its current burning platform.