About HPE's Planned Acquisition Strategy: Here's What Analysts Think

About HPE's Planned Acquisition Strategy: Here's What Analysts Think

HPE CEO Meg Whitman says acquisitions are a key part of its future, but several IT analysts say the company needs to proceed cautiously.

Meg Whitman, the CEO of enterprise server, cloud computing, storage and networking vendor HPE, has watched her company change a lot over the last several years, spinning off its printer and personal computer businesses, selling off some other operations and even acquiring other companies that can help it reign in new customers and business.

That will continue in 2017 with HPE in the midst of an ongoing acquisition phase as the company works to refine and bolster its existing product offerings for enterprise customers, according to Whitman, who revealed the company's plans in an interview at its Discover conference in Las Vegas this week. The company already has spent about $1.5 billion this year to acquire companies that fit well with HPE's mission, Whitman told Bloomberg, and she'll continue that plan to fight back against competitors including Dell and others.

"I think you will see acquisitions become a bigger part of our strategy," Whitman said in the interview. "Back when we were an enormous company with six or seven operating divisions, there were a lot of mouths to feed. Printing wanted to make acquisitions. PCs wanted to make acquisitions. Software wanted to make acquisitions. Now, we have a much more focused strategy."

That may be the company's plan, but a sampling of three IT analysts told ITPro that the company and Whitman better be careful as they make their way through the planned acquisitions-to-grow-revenue strategy that's being pursued.

Dan Olds, principal analyst with Gabriel Consulting Group, said it makes sense that HPE today wants to acquire tech-related businesses that will help them increase revenue and innovations in their server and storage business lines, but the tougher part is to actually make good use of the acquired technology. That, he said, is often the bane of such deals. "Many times, the benefits of these acquisitions are frittered away due to 'not invented here' cultures or failing to pay attention to the acquired company after the purchase."

To counter that problem, Whitman and her team will need to be sure HPE gets as much benefit as possible from the new companies, said Olds. "They have to carefully research their targets and have a plan for integrating them into HPE and taking advantage of their technology and team. This isn't that easy to do and will be a challenge for HPE."

On HPE's side is that the company still has a solid share of the market and a very large and skilled set of business partners, said Olds. "They need to worry about maintaining their position and building on it. They'd be best-served by listening to customers and finding out what they really need from a vendor-partner, rather than just trying to figure it out on their own. And by listening to their customers, I'm not just talking about their top 10 customers, they need to talk to non-HPE customers as well."

At the same time, HPE's "financial results aren't much to write home about [lately], but they're holding their own during all of these changes."

For Whitman and her team, the company's latest acquisition strategy is "sort of a make or break situation in slow motion," he continued. "The company definitely needs to latch on to a strategy and execute on it – they've used up their Mulligans. They need to focus on innovation and not just becoming a 'me too' player in the industry."

The problem remains, however, that "HPE is still a huge company, and it takes a lot of room to change direction," said Olds. 

Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Research, said he worries about HPE's plans to expand through acquisitions because the company has a poor track record with making them work well. "HPE's acquisition process in horrible generally in destroying the property they acquire," he said. "It makes no sense for them to execute a strategy of acquisitions until they fix that process."

Whitman came in to help reduce the excess complexity within the company and "an acquisition process increases complexity, it doesn't decrease it," added Enderle. 

Ultimately, though, Whitman may not be the answer to HPE's problems, he said. "HPE's recent financial results clearly showcase that Whitman isn't capable of turning the company around and in reviewing the past CEOs, only Mark Hurd made solid progress. The HPE board should look for another CEO with a Hurd-like pedigree, but they seem unable to grasp that concept."

For HPE, this is a problem that acquisitions won't solve, said Enderle. "Right now HPE is largely an industry joke, in a warming economy and with most firms showing increased strength, HPE appears to continue to weaken. It is the technology equivalent of Sears in an Amazon age."

Another analyst, Charles King of Pund-IT, isn't quite as pessimistic.

Since being named as CEO of the original HP in September of 2011, Whitman spun off the PC and printer businesses and sold off underperforming businesses, including the services organization that mostly consisted of assets acquired from EDS, said King. "The three-fold path that Whitman detailed at Discover – synergistic acquisitions, new innovations and improvements in existing products – is pretty conventional by IT industry standards," he added.

And since acquiring businesses usually provides faster results than starting new divisions from scratch, HPE is doing what makes sense for it, he said. "Considering its recent poor financial performance, HPE is and should be a company in a hurry."

In the marketplace, HPE certainly remains relevant, despite its underlying revenue issues and related business problems, said King. "The company is a major force in business systems--usually ranked first or second, depending on the market. But focusing almost entirely on x86-based systems and sloughing off most of its services and software assets makes it increasingly difficult for HPE to define its actual value proposition."

King said customers and shareholders gave Whitman and her leadership group a lot of rope to pursue the PC/printer group spinoff, "but after last quarter's results, that rope likely became a good deal shorter."

The future will be carefully watched by stockholders and customers, he argues. "Whitman's heightened focus on acquisitions suggests that she and HPE's board are looking for quick results," said King. "If they choose correctly, it could workout okay for them. If not, we'll probably be discussing yet another HPE leadership change within the next few quarters."

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