In preparing to sell its Personal Computer Division to Lenovo Group Ltd., IBM is assuring customers that they will not get burned in the same manner that users did in the wake of Hewlett-Packard Co.s acquisition of Compaq Computer Corp. three years ago, with nixed product lines and mixed messages.
"We were an HP shop for years," said Frank Calabrese, manager of desktop strategy and services for Bose Corp., in Framingham, Mass., and an eWEEK Corporate Partner. "HP merged with Compaq, and two days after it hit the press, our HP sales team was in here telling us that nothing would change. Then they came in four weeks later and said that theyd be rolling out Compaq [notebooks] instead. All of our knowledge was around the HP platform, and there was a lot of transitional angst."
Bose is now an IBM customer, and Calabrese is hearing similar promises. But IBM officials are working hard to show customers that IBM-Lenovo is nothing like HP-Compaq, mostly due to a lack of product overlap.
"Our initial focus for us is to work with existing customers to give them evidence that nothing has, in fact, changed," Deepak Advani, vice president of strategy and marketing for IBM, in Armonk, N.Y., who will become chief strategy officer of China-based Lenovo when the deal closes next year, told eWEEK last week. "But well bring additional products that will be optimized for small business."
Customers seem convinced the IBM deal differs from HPs efforts.
"Lenovos laptop business is relatively small compared with IBMs. There are no competing products in their product lines, and they sell into different areas of the world," said Kevin Wilson, product line manager at Duke Energy Corp., in Charlotte, N.C., and an eWEEK Corporate Partner.
"Compare this with the HP-Compaq acquisition, where there were two completely identical laptop product lines extending over identical customer bases in identical geographies," said Wilson, whose company uses some 4,000 ThinkPads.
More than it ever was for HP or Compaq, innovation has been the hallmark of IBMs ThinkPad product line, officials said. IBM has declined to explain which company will own the ThinkPad patents after the sale, saying only that there will be cross-license agreements.
But to quell customer concerns, IBM has committed to an 18-month development road map that includes new ThinkPad features such as updates to the Airbag recovery system, which protects the notebooks should they fall off a desk or out of a briefcase. "The Lenovo team has great respect for the ThinkPad development team, and the focus in our [presale] discussion was really on how we continue to innovate," said Jan Janick, vice president of development at IBM.
The company has also promised to maintain image stability on its customers PCs even after the acquisition. This is especially important for global customers, who want to run core applications across the board, regardless of language-localized keyboards.
Analysts support IBMs claims that the Lenovo deal will not squelch innovation. "Theyre not going to give away the crown jewels here," said Leslie Fiering, an analyst at Gartner Inc., in San Jose, Calif. "If this deal is done right, the only thing customers will notice will be that prices are a little bit lower, and nobodys going to object to that."
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