HP CEO Produces Some Answers

Hurd acknowledges company's need to improve customer account services in Q&A session at the HP Technology Forum.

ORLANDO, Fla. —Hewlett-Packard CEO Mark Hurd acknowledges that his companys customer account services need improvement.

Speaking to about 4,000 Hewlett-Packard Co. customers at the HP Technology Forum here, Hurd got the biggest applause after restating his push to improve customer service.

"You have all of our commitment to making HP an easier company to deal with," Hurd said.

Most of Hurds remarks at the Technology Forum were in a question-and-answer format, with David Booth, senior vice president and U.S. country manager for HPs Technology Solutions Group, reading questions submitted Monday and Tuesday morning by attendees.

One question asked about HPs ability to minimize disruption to customers as the company sheds 14,500 jobs.

"It could be an issue for us," Hurd said. "The message we get [from customers] is we like the company, we like the people, its just that youre a tough company to do business with."

Key goals in the job cuts was keeping the customer-facing workforce intact, and giving those employees more authority so they can more quickly respond to customer needs. One way of doing that was by reducing the management layers above them, Hurd said.

"[HP wanted to] get rid of the checkers of the checkers, and just let the people do their job," he said.

His message resonated with users. "Its something I wanted to hear," said one customer, who didnt want to be named. "If he can actually [follow through on the promise], that would be great."

HP also is trying to be strategic in where it reapplies its money, both within the company and through its acquisitions. Pointing to its acquisition of AppIQ Inc., a storage software company, Hurd said that by buying that company, HP was able to strengthen a storage business that had been struggling and enable it to better compete with the likes of EMC Corp.

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read more about HPs staying faithful to management and services.

Hurd also said HP would continue its investments in research and development—it currently spends about $3.5 billion annually in R&D—and said that customer input was crucial in that process. "Theres a group that thinks that all the greatest ideas come from Palo Alto," he said. "That group is smaller now."

Those investments will be in areas that HP sees as its core strengths, such as digital media, servers and management software, he said. The result hopefully will be more products that help fix customer problems, he said.

In a message that he has sent out in earlier speeches, Hurd also pledged a continued emphasis on partnering, though primarily with those who prove to be committed HP products. Those who use the HP label, but hollow out the product and instead fill it with third-party components, wont get the same attention that other partners do.

"I think youll see us trying to be more precision-oriented in terms of who we partner with," Hurd said.

Earlier in the day, Hurd shared similar messages with a packed room of IT professionals at the Gartner IT Symposium, also held in Orlando.

"For us, we have a tremendous asset in the customer base," Hurd said, after a Gartner analyst told Hurd that lousy account management is an ongoing complaint of HP customers. "We havent done as good a job as I think we can at understanding the aggregate customer business."

Hurd said vaguely that the company is working on that, but it will take time because HP has 16,600 sales people.

"I dont think that when you build great sales forces you build them in two days, or a month, or a quarter, or even a year," he said.

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read more about how HP banks on continuous protection for storage.

Hurd also tried to quash recent rumors that HP is exiting the printer business due to ongoing pressure from Dell Computer.

"The printing business is a pretty strong business," he said. "I think its a well-run business and a good industry. We spend a lot of R&D in that business."

That said, Hurd said the companys growth businesses in the next five years will be servers, storage and services.

In the next five years HP will further the integration of storage management into systems management, he said. "Id like to be able to come back in five years and say that HP is the best technologist on earth," he said.

He added that HP does not intend to repeat missteps the company made in the past (under his predecessor, Carly Fiorina) —citing as an example the decision to resell and rebrand Apples iPod music players last year.

"In some cases, we were scotch-taping 10-dollar bills to them," he quipped.

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