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Hewlett Packard: The Dodge Em Method

February 27, 2015

I read an interesting article called “Hewlett Packard Tries to Duck Investors with Virtual Meeting.” I thought it was hip to do meetings via Skype and the plug in on my Xenky.com Web site. Guess not.

The write up makes a point that I don’t consider when firing up the tele-meeting software. Here’s the passage I noted:

Hewlett Packard’s recent decision to ditch its annual shareholder meeting in favor of a virtual one is just bad corporate governance. The forum gives ordinary shareholders their one chance each year to directly question and even confront the CEO and board of directors. And when it comes to HP, investors should be asking plenty of questions.

Ah, corporate governance. I thought this was an area reserved for Wharton business school instructors. You know, Wharton, one of the fonts of management perspicuity for eager consultants and CEOs to be. (I wonder what “governance” means: Good decision making, prudent use of financial resources, innovating, generating sustainable revenue?)

The article points out the MBA type reasoning that HP management seems to be using. There’s a reference to the Autonomy flap, cost savings, and, of course, the somewhat lackluster financial performance.

I don’t agree with this statement:

Under Whitman, a former eBay CEO, HP has stabilized.

Like IBM, these large “information technology” companies are a bit like a whale stuck in a small bay. Everyone arrives to help, but in most cases, there is not much to be done. A confused whale is pretty much a challenge for everyone involved. When a whale thrashes before its death, I want to be standing well away from the creature.

I suppose that’s why I am confused about what HP is doing with the Autonomy technology. Some of the zeros and ones date from the mid 1990s. I don’t drive a 25 year old automobile. HP apparently plans to sell some.

Stephen E Arnold, February 27, 2015

Google and Decision Making

February 27, 2015

Well, guess what? I read an allegedly true story. Google has changed its management mind about the type of images permissible on Blogger. Navigate to “Google Won’t Ban Adult Content on Blogger after All.” Here’s the passage I noted:

“This week, we announced a change to Blogger’s porn policy. We’ve had a ton of feedback, in particular about the introduction of a retroactive change (some people have had accounts for 10+ years), but also about the negative impact on individuals who post sexually explicit content to express their identities,” says Jessica Pelegio, Social Product Support Manager at Google. “Blog owners should continue to mark any blogs containing sexually explicit content as “adult” so that they can be placed behind an ‘adult content’ warning page.”

Google is free to do what it wants unless a nation state does some saber rattling and discriminatory legislative actions.

For me, the important point is the speed with which a decision is made and then reversed. I assume this type of fluid problem solving is one of the reasons that Google is a shape shifter when it comes to Google Plus, which seems to be undergoing disaggregation. Note Google Plus is the future of Google, but disaggregation is the way to handle the alleged Facebook-type service.

Agile is as agile does.

Stephen E Arnold, February 27, 2015

Google: Circling the Semi Virtual Wagons

February 26, 2015

Google has an interesting track record with nation states, supra national agencies, and regulators.

Google has a new Euro boss, Matt Brittin. According to “Here’s Everything We Know about Google’s new European Boss Matt Brittin,” he is tall and:

Born in 1968 in Walton-on-Thames in Surrey, England, he was educated at Hampton School and Robinson College before leaving home to study at Cambridge University, where he earned a Master of Arts in Land Economy and Geography.

Also, according to “Google Shakes Up European Units in Face of Tougher Rules,” the GOOG is following in Yahoo’s footsteps  by trying to get organized in Europe. You may have to pay to access the Financial Times’ article.

Net net: After 15 or so years in business, the lads in Mountain View are circling their virtual wagons in EC land.

Will the shift be enough to satisfy the regulators presiding over a somewhat shaky financial and political tie up? My hunch is that regulators will regulate. Perhaps some juicy penalties or taxation fast dancing will be announced.

Exciting for Google which is facing push back about its real estate dreams in Mountain View, annoyances in China, and the on going European saber rattling.

Google will have to stand tall. The new GOOG Euro boss should be able to see over the well coiffed heads of the regulators.

Stephen E Arnold, February 26, 2015

Palantir Gets Some Publicity

February 16, 2015

Short honk: The New York Times publishes a weekly magazine. I have a tough time figuring out what the publication covers. I noted a long article on Sunday, February 15, 2015, “The Undergraduate and the Mentor.” The cover of the magazine carried the title “The Accusation.” I was confused, but the NYT magazine is a baffler I ignore when it arrives. You may be able to access the article at this link, but don’t complain to me if the NYT wants money from you. I just want to document that the mentor was a founder of Palantir. The company is described this way:

With early funding from the C.I.A., Lonsdale helped Thiel and others start Palantir. Named for the “seeing stones” in “The Lord of the Rings,” the company developed powerful data-mining software for surveillance and won contracts with hundreds of law-enforcement agencies, including the National Security Agency and the Defense Department. In 2009, Lonsdale went on to other ventures but retained a stake in Palantir, whose value would climb to more than $9 billion. In 2011, with a small group of partners, some of whom had close ties to Asia, Lonsdale started the venture-capital fund Formation 8, named for a lucky number in China. Along with starting and financing companies, he has continued to embrace libertarian causes and recently joined the finance team for Senator Rand Paul’s possible Republican presidential campaign. And he sometimes can’t resist showing off his newfound wealth: For a viewing party of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” last year, Lonsdale bought a $30,000 replica of the show’s iron throne, posing on it like the show’s line of blustering and sadistic kings.

I made a list of some of the loaded words used in the write up to bring the former Palantir founder into more vivid relief:

  • “hard time making eye contact”. The Palantir person would not look at an interlocutor.
  • “condescending.” Word used to describe the Palantir person’s attitude
  • “broke the rules”. Phrase used to describe Palantir person’s behavior at a swimming pool

The author of the write up paints a word picture of the Palantir person which I did not find positive. If you are curious about alleged improper interpersonal behaviors, the NYT magazine may interest you.

For me, it is one more dreary Stanford University/Silicon Valley dust up. I assume the rules are different in the go go world of high tech. Innovating in content processing could, I suppose, husband more ambitious pursuits.

Stephen E Arnold, February 16, 2015

IBM and Layoffs: Watson, Watson, Where Are You?

February 4, 2015

For months I have been commenting about the increasingly weird marketing pitches for IBM Watson. This is the Lucene and home grown script system positioned as the next big thing in information retrieval. The financial goals for this system were crazy. My recollection is that IBM wanted to generate a billion in revenue from open source search and bits and pieces of the IBM technology lumber.

Impossible. Having a system ingest bounded content and then answer “questions” about that content is neither new, remarkable, or particularly interesting to me. When the system is presented as a way to solve the problem of cancer and generate barbeque sauce with tamarind, the silliness points to desperation.

IBM marketers were trying everything to make open source search into a billion dollar baby and pull of the stunt quickly. Keep in mind that Autonomy required 15 years and a number of pretty savvy acquisitions to nose into the $700 million range.

IBM, in its confused state, believed that it could do the trick in a fraction of the time. IBM apparently was unaware of the erratic thinking at Hewlett Packard that spent $11 billion for Autonomy and wanted to generate billions from that system at the same time IBM was going to collect a billion or more from the same market.

Both of these companies, dazed by a long term struggle with spreadsheet fever, were ignoring or simply did not understand the doldrums of the enterprise information access market. Big companies were quite happy to give open source solutions a try. Vendors of proprietary systems were pitching their keyword systems as everything from customer support “solutions” to business intelligence systems that would “predict” what the company should know.

Yep, right.

I read with some sadness the posts at Alliance@IBM. The viewpoint is not that of IBM management which is now firing or resource allocating its way people. I am not sure how many folks are going to be terminated, but the comments in this series of IBM employee comments suggest that the staff are unhappy. Some may not go gentle into that good night.

The point is that the underlying problems at IBM were evident in the silly Watson marketing. An organization that can with a straight face suggest that a next generation information access system can discover a new recipe provides a glimpse into an organization’s disconnect at a fundamental level.

Too bad. The stock buybacks, the sale of manufacturing assets, and the assertions that a mainframe is a mobile platform tells me that IBM stockholders may want to reevaluate those holdings.

If IBM asked Watson, I question the outputs.

Stephen E Arnold, February 4, 2015

Google Fails: Is Google in for a Tough Year?

January 7, 2015

I don’t think too much about Google. The ad crazy search system does not output the type of results I want. But there are many Google cheerleaders in the thriving world of 2015. But there are some quasi doubters. My view is that every year has been a tough one for Google. With a single revenue stream, Google is saddled with the “one trick pony” label.

Why Betting on Google Is Risky Business” raises mostly old concerns about the company. The write up mentions a number of Google’s flops. Any of you remember Orkut or Wave? There is some hope for Google Glass, but the write up sees Glass as evidence of a larger problem at the GOOG.

Here’s the passage I noted:

Nick Selby, a police detective and CEO of StreetCred Software, says he invested a “few thousand bucks” on Google Glass as a law enforcement tool before his team eventually decided it would never go anywhere. “All I got out of it was a very expensive paperweight and some snickering friends,” Selby says. “A lot of companies were considering law enforcement applications for Glass,” Selby says. “Since our product ranks the likelihood of finding and capturing fugitives, and provides situational awareness for officers that can be easily expressed geospatially, our thought was that we might use Glass to project attributes onto buildings.” Selby’s optimism toward Glass quickly diminished the minute he tried on a pair. “In our experience the technology both wasn’t ready and wouldn’t likely be ready for the kind of nuanced display and interactivity we would require to make this useful and cop-proof.”

Glass is a bit of an aberration. The story of its beginning and slow end have more to do with interpersonal activities mixing with half baked ideas. Too bad the write up does not dig into a story that features mobile devices, the ministrations of a psychiatrist, and the exit of a high profile wizard to Amazon.

Yep, there’s more to the story, but I am not sure this write up is anywhere near the target zone.

Stephen E Arnold, January 7, 2014

Did Hewlett Packard Overpay for Autonomy?

December 12, 2014

The Economist, the British magazine that calls itself a newspaper, published “The Dozy Watchdogs.” Well, okay. The write up does contain an interesting nugget along the lines of “when you are out you are in and when you are in you are out.” Take that cricket fans.

The snippet in the article that I noted was this bit:

In 2012 Hewlett-Packard wrote off 80% of its $10.3 billion purchase of Autonomy, a software company, after accusing the firm of counting forecast subscriptions as current sales (Autonomy pleads innocence).

What’s 80 percent of $11 billion? In Harrod’s Creek, that’s a big management mistake. HP wrote a check and drove the vehicle off the lot. Yep, let’s blame the auditors, the dozy ones.

Stephen E Arnold, December 12, 2014

Google: People, Just Do It Our Way

November 1, 2014

Not content to redefine relevance, Google wants Silicon Valley and by extension anyone who wants to be successful to do what Google says. Note. I am not saying “what Google does.” The point is “what Google says.” There is a difference.

In a massive public relations, marketing, brand boosting effort, Google taps the Financial Times to carry its message. You can find the 2,800 word article in the Financial Times at http://on.ft.com/10ceArV. You may have to register or pay for access once the hoo hah about “FT Interview with Google Co-Founder and CEO Larry Page” quiets.

I urge you to read the original write up. I want to highlight three comments or passages that shed light on information retrieval, which is my area of interest. Spoiler: Not good news for those who want relevant results.

Larry Page, not content with plain search, wants to do something bigger:

to use the money that is spouting from its search advertising business to stake out positions in boom industries of the future, from biotech to robotics.

Mr. Page wants the real movers and shakers to get in gear:

Page estimates that only about 50 investors are chasing the real breakthrough technologies that have the potential to make a material difference to the lives of most people on earth. If there is something holding these big ideas back, it is not a shortage of money or even the barrier of insurmountable technical hurdles. When breakthroughs of the type he has in mind are pursued, it is “not really being driven by any fundamental technical advance. It’s just being driven by people working on it and being ambitious,” he says. Not enough institutions – particularly governments – are thinking expansively enough about these issues: “We’re probably underinvested as a world in that.”

Technology, of course, is the one true way, but some people have not embraced Google’s view of what’s logical:

“I think people see the disruption but they don’t really see the positive,” says Page. “They don’t see it as a life-changing kind of thing. I think the problem has been people don’t feel they are participating in it.”

Like the recent Eric Schmidt opus How Google Works, Google executives want to be more than rich. Google wants to be the giver of wisdom. I am okay with that, but how many of those put out of work by technology will agree?

Stephen E Arnold, November 1, 2014

HP: Business or B-School

October 7, 2014

Venerable Hewlett Packard may be a bellwether for other established high technology companies trapped in a time warp. Some hardware and services are enterprise centric. Other hardare and services are consumer centric.. Why not create two companies and double the fun?

The Bloomberg article “HP Split Is Latest Chapter in Whitman’s Change-Filled Career” does a good job of summarizing HP management flip flops. First, it is PCs and enterprise. Then it is to be split up. No, no. HP will not sell its PC and printer business. Oh, oh, wait. Now HP management will create two companies. Wow.

The write up states:

Whitman will lead Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, a business focused on corporate hardware and services, while Dion Weisler, the vice president in charge of Hewlett-Packard’s personal-computer and printer operations, will become CEO of that business. Whitman has been introducing new products and today she expanded a job-cut program to more than 55,000 jobs to trim costs. Hewlett-Packard, based in Palo Alto, California, has fallen behind in mobile computing at a time when consumers have migrated to smartphones and tablets, and last year lost its place as the largest maker of PCs to Lenovo Group Ltd. The split represents a reversal for Whitman, who ruled out a spinoff of the company’s PC division months after replacing Leo Apotheker, who had floated that possibility earlier that year. Whitman has since reiterated Hewlett-Packard’s commitment to the PC business on numerous occasions.

HP seems to be emulating IBM. Another parallel with IBM is HP’s expectations for content processing revenue. IBM has targeted $10 billion as Watson’s goal. HP wants Autonomy to pump billions into the HP coffers. HP and IBM have more confidence in content processing’s ability to generate substantial revenue than I do.

I  look forward with interest to the unfolding of the two different B school approaches. I am not sure that Yahoo’s or HP’s will work. For me, the question becomes, “Which iconic high technology company has to flounder for a solution to revenue challenges?”

And, “What is Plan B for these over stressed giants?”

Stephen E Arnold, October 7, 2014

Management for the Young at Heart

October 5, 2014

With so many search and content processing vendors struggling to meet licensees’ expectations, management insights are needed. When failed webmasters, frustrated academics, or art history majors morph into search experts, poobahs, and wizards—checklists are essential.

I want to point you to this list of items to embrace, particularly if you are young at heart, absent a successful management track record, or someone looking for a shortcut to the affection of your employees.

Navigate to “44 Engineering Management Lessons.” A lesson in this context is more like a statement or exhortation delivered with vocal tones both dulcet and soft.

Here are three “lessons”. I will leave the other 41 to your own study:

No. 5 “Provide administrative support. Schedule issues, coordinate releases, and make sure the bureaucratic machine keeps ticking.

No 12 Don’t make decisions unless you have to. Whenever possible, allow the team explore ideas and make decisions on its own

No. 38 Occasionally someone will push too far. When they do, you have to show a rough edge or you’ll lose authority with your team.

There you go.

Next time stakeholders demand a return on their investment in your search or content processing company, use these tips. If you are “teaching” people about search, integrate these ideas into your lecture.

You cannot lose, at least in the experience of the author of the management lessons, er, big list of statements.

Stephen E Arnold, October 5, 2014

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