This week's HP Industry Analyst Summit is IT's first company-wide, analyst-only event. That means it sets the bar that the others will attempt to beat this year.
Five areas define a good analyst event:
- Executive preparation: Did they take the event seriously?
- Demonstrated loyalty and collaboration: Is this a company — or a bunch of combatants?
- Dogfooding: Does the firm use its own products?
- Customers as vendor advocates: Does the customer have a voice?
- Entertainment: Are the analysts in the crowd checking email?
Analysts are a leveraged resource. If excited, they drive business to the vendor. If not, this value won't materialize. If alienated, they drive business from the vendor at a multiple based on the number of IT buyers or investors they touch.
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Traditionally IBM leads the pack with executive preparation and customer voice. EMC leads in using its own products competitively, in loyalty to the CEO and in collaboration. Dell leads with analyst engagement, which starts with Michael Dell. When Meg Whitman took over at HP, the firm lagged in every category. This year, the gaps are closing sharply. But the year is young.
Executive Preparation: HP On Message, On Time
A few years ago, HP put on one of the worst analyst events. Folks weren't rehearsed and clearly didn't have the analysts, or the event, as a priority. This year, Whitman stumbled a couple times, though it may have been a teleprompter issue, and everyone was well-rehearsed, on message and on time. This demonstrates that the company takes the event and the audience seriously, which improves engagement and goes a long way to making an event a success. Here, HP set a reasonably high bar.
Loyalty: HP Looks Like a Company Again
Here, too, HP under Carly Fiorina set the bar low. I remember one event when a bunch of executives went off the reservation and the look on Fiorina's face likely made them glad assassination wasn't legal. (I've seen worse: At an event hosted by Micron, a defunct PC vendor, two executives actually came close to throwing punches.)
This year showed a marked improvement — and the progress Whitman has made with her team. Executives related nicely to each other on stage and appeared close off stage. They showed Whitman appropriate respect — a dramatic difference from earlier events, when a lack of respect and inability to cooperate seemed obvious. HP now looks like a company again.
Dogfooding: HP Neither Teacher's Pet nor Class Clown
This is one of the most critical aspects of an event such as this. I worked at IBM at a time when the company's own CIOs wouldn't touch IBM products. That experience stuck with me.
I firmly believe you should avoid like the plague any company that doesn't aggressively use its own products. Again, HP seemed to be avoiding its own products in the past, but this year the company showed aggressive use of HP technology internally.
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Among major IT vendors, EMC most aggressively uses its own technology, largely for customer retention and loyalty. HP isn't yet executing at that level, but it isn't at the back of the pack anymore, either. In fact, had this event been last year, HP would be near the head of the class based on its services presentation. That's a solid improvement — and, since HP's financial performance has also improved, the company can argue that its technology helped improve its performance. That's a powerful argument.
Customer Content: Still a One-way Conversation
IBM and Dell push each other hard here. At my last IBM event, customer presentations (outside of one-on-ones) made up more than 70 percent of the content. Dell typically exceeds 50 percent.
Here HP lagged. There was customer content, with recognizable brands such as Facebook, but it was scarce and came late in the event. A few years back, we did an advocacy study and found that customers are the most powerful vendor advocates, due largely to their independence, and vendors themselves the least powerful.
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This lack of customer content means that HP's effectiveness in an event like this, though improved, ranks below the other vendors — especially if those other vendors execute as well or better than they have in prior years. HP spoke about its customers a lot, but its customers didn't talk about HP at all. That must be fixed.
Entertainment: Slides Are No Match for Personality
It's difficult to keep anyone engaged at an event where attendees have crossed timelines, Wi-Fi and connected devices. The best events use panel discussions, videos, analyst Q&A sessions and even popular bands to wake up audiences up and keep them focused on the stage rather than their phones.
Microsoft (under Bill Gates, at least) did the best job with videos, IBM does the best with bands and entertainment and Dell with analyst engagement, largely because Michael Dell engages analysts individually and holds lots of panels, which tend to be more interesting (albeit lacking the conflict that would increase engagement even more).
This week, HP's content was pretty good, but, in watching the audience, folks dove into email within 10 minutes of the start of every presentation. Part of this is because analysts specialize and won't be interested in anything not in their area of expertise. Much of this is because, no matter the speech, no speaker will hold an audience with static slides against the fascination of personal messaging.
Here, too, HP lags behind the other vendors. I expect both IBM and Dell to easily jump this bar.
Still Room for HP to Improve
Year over year, HP's analyst event execution has improved — and HP's financial performance mirrors this. HP has set a high bar in three of the areas discussed here but still lags in the other two. As a result, I expect the analysts leaving this event to improve their opinions of HP — but not dramatically.
Those who look across the company will likely see the biggest improvement; the areas where HP executed best support that conclusion. Those who cover specific businesses won't see as much improvement, given the lack of customer validation and engagement, though this may correct itself following the one-on-one presentations that haven't yet occurred).
In the end, the event very much mirrors HP's overall turnaround: Sharply improved, but still leaving room for improvement.
Rob Enderle is president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group. Previously, he was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group. Prior to that he worked for IBM and held positions in Internal Audit, Competitive Analysis, Marketing, Finance and Security. Currently, Enderle writes on emerging technology, security and Linux for a variety of publications and appears on national news TV shows that include CNBC, FOX, Bloomberg and NPR.