It has been a year of uncertainty for HP printer and PC partners, but a top sales executive for the combined printing and personal systems business unit says better days are just around the corner.
John Solomon, senior vice president of Americas sales for HP PPS, is downright bullish on Windows 8 and believes it will give a shot in the arm to sluggish PC sales.
"I do think there is going to be an upgrade cycle. I think there is going to be a bounce-back from a pretty soft year," Solomon told CRN. "It will be single digit growth, but growth [nonetheless]."
HP unveiled a wave of business-focused ultrabooks in May and is gearing up to launch an x86-based Windows 8 tablet that Solomon said will be aimed at enterprise users. HP is also straddling the line between business and consumer with its Envy Spectre XT Ultrabook, which debuted in January.
While Windows 8 reviews have been mixed, Solomon said HP is confident that its Windows 8 tablets and ultrabooks will stand out from the pack.
"I don’t know what the acceptance of Windows 8 is going to be, [but] I'm very confident that the HP PC features we've built in -- the thin and light [design], the ease of use features -- are going to be very attractive," Solomon told CRN.
The Windows 8 touch interface will present a learning curve to some customers, and Solomon said the change will be as significant as that which accompanied the transition from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95. That said, HP is fully embracing the possibilities of the new OS, according to Solomon.
"Windows 8 and touch is really the dynamite combination. For Windows 8 without touch, the benefits are not as significant," Solomon said. "So, we're going to be doing a lot together with the channel in spelling out the benefits of why you should go to Windows 8."
However, HP may find it difficult to get partners to jump on the Windows 8 express. Some are still angry about the company's flirtation last year with a spin-off of its $40 billion PC unit.
"We're going to wait and see what the products look like and if they will drive profitable business for us," one HP partner told CRN. "It is hard for any of us to make money selling end-points no matter how cool they are."
PPS gets its channel game on
HP will eliminate 27,000 jobs by the end of fiscal 2013, and PPS was affected by the initial wave of 9000 cuts that HP announced in May. While painful, the workforce reduction has enabled HP to streamline its PPS channel program, according to HP's Solomon.
"We combined two big business groups, both of which had headwinds. We've taken a lot of cost out, and have actually got the majority of that behind us," Solomon said. "Now we're taking the cost savings and reinvesting them in things like a stronger product portfolio, more money in the channel and driving demand."
As part of a series of channel program changes that went into effect Aug. 1, HP is now giving PPS partners a clearer picture of how much money they will be making from deals.
HP has combined several pre-existing PC and printer programs into one for PPS that Solomon described as "much more customisable," meaning partners can choose from a menu of program options to find ones that work best for their business model.
"We have completely revamped the program structure to give partners better visibility to their earnings and profit potential with HP," Solomon said. "There is now one program, one rep and one escalation point. From a partner perspective, we have become easier to deal with, at least across the PPS portfolio."
The way the previous program was constructed, partners weren't able to determine financial considerations until after they had closed deals, Solomon said.
"They could achieve certain hurdles and hoops and then get paid, but they didn't know going in whether they would be able to achieve those," he said. "We've tilted funding to the front, so you have more confidence as a partner working with HP."
To make purchasing easier, HP is also giving partners 60-day financing under a recently launched program that includes the participation of Wells Fargo, GE Capital, IBM and De Lage Landen.
Solomon said HP is also seeing technology benefits from combining printers and PCs into a single business unit. HP is altering its printer drivers to make them easier to install on HP PCs, a move toward the sort of vertical integration that has long been a hallmark of Apple products.
While subtle, HP sees these and other changes it is planning to make to PPS as keys to driving customer loyalty.
"There's more to come that we'll talk to you about in the future. But, we're very committed, and this is not just a cost exercise," Solomon told CRN. "We have weekly meetings between our R&D groups to align roadmaps [between PCs and printers], so that over time, you see more and more synching up in terms of industrial design and functionality."