James Governor's Monkchips

5 minute blog: HP gets its research mojo?

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I am going to write this in 5 minutes.

I recently visited HP R&D Labs in Bristol, and the trip was worthwhile.

What did I learn?

HP has a notion called Everything As A Service. The idea makes a lot of sense- I tend to call it the Service Mass Convergence; HP’s term is far catchier. Literally anything it seems can be provided as a service, and probably will, especially as become more and more digital. HP actually started on a v similar notion back in 1999 with a play called e-services. It didn’t work out.

HP’s recent record on organic innovation is frankly pretty poor, which the company needs to address. Frankly some of its acquisitions for innovation have also been undercooked (Bluestone is the poster child). So HP needs to get more out of its research labs – a bunch of squeak was never going to drive the bottom line. Frankly this trip the folks at labs came across as far more commercially aware.

Being less academic by being more academic: I was impressed by the new labs director – Prith Banerjee. One of his key points was that HP research would have to engage a lot more deeply in peer review through scientific and research journals. This idea makes so much sense- rather than a board at HP trying to work out whether an idea is really advancing the state of the art, the world will let HP know. This is open source/co-innovation thinking, and absolutely the right thinking to do.

I have regularly hammered IBM for having no “consumer” touch points. I came away from Bristol realising that HP has plenty, and its helping the company better understand Everything As A Service. HP owns snapfish. I knew nothing about this online photo storage app (being a dork I only know about Flickr, Smugmug and Picasa) – it has 50m users. So when HP researchers showed me an app that will examine your photo library, identify the faces in it, and visualise them accordingly, a light went off. I see- HP can actually use the stuff its labs are building. The same app could be bundled with a PC. I might not buy a machine because of it, but it would be a nice addition to the “service”.

I was most impressed though by HP’s sustainability guru Chandrakant Patel. The guy is awesome. I wrote his pitch up here.

HP has more skin in the game here than you might think – because of its printing business. While HP didn’t use the term Bit Miles it did talk a lot about “Long Tail Printing”. That is, digital printing at the point of use, avoiding the need to pulp a bunch of copies of some book or magazine noone ever read. Bear in mind that print technology is now moving into three dimensions, so you can potentially print objects not just characters on paper. The potential for print and micro-fabrication to reduce transportation cost is vast. Chandrakant talked about the need to create an “IT ecosystem” for the printing industry, to ensure it is carbon positive rather than negative. The HP Labs’ approach he said was to replace conventional supply chains with sustainable IT ecosystems.

Of course not everything in the vision is new. On the contrary:

“We need to leverage the past to create the future.”

One of the key problems with the 98% is the complexity of the metrics involved. How do we really know, asked Chandrakant, that the carbon used to create the Halo video conference wasn’t greater than the flight he chose not to take? There is a need for irrefutable metrics. And we don’t have 15 years. HP Labs is now working on prototypes to model and predict the impact of different re-engineering strategies, then measure and monitor the results. “These tools”, said Chandrakant’s UK equivalent Chris Preist, will analyse consumption of available energy and greenhouse gases across the lifecycle.

HP’s vision here is nothing less than to give businesses the tools they need to simulate the greenhouse impacts of potential new products and services. What if I used IBM tools here, or a BT network? What if I chose Apple hardware over Windows laptops? And so on.

Actually that took me ten minutes but at least its off my todo list! 🙂


  1. I’m interested by the ‘Everything as a Service’ idea and wonder if it came from the sustainability camp? I know this is an idea pushed by The Natural Step (http://www.naturalstep.org) and their poster child is Interface. Interface went from selling carpet to selling a floor covering service, after all who wants to actually own carpet. This meant they had a great incentive to make their carpet hard wearing and easily recyclable. Do you know if this is the kind of thinking going on at HP?

  2. […] where am I going with this, given HP is in the title? I first began to understand HP’s approach when I visited HP Labs in Bristol last year. At the time I said: I have regularly hammered IBM for […]

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