Stumbling at the altar

The last thing that Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Carly Fiorina and Compaq Computer Corp.'s Michael Capellas need right now is a bunch of angry users. The executive duo already have their hands full trying to mollify skeptical analysts, cautious shareholders, concerned government agencies on both sides of the Atlantic and resistant, outspoken founding families.

Tripping over a 30-year-old product line isn't particularly graceful as you make your way down the aisle in a corporate marriage.

On the other hand, continuing to build your company's systems and its competitive future around a 30-year-old product line in an era when three-year product life cycles are the norm isn't exactly the most strategic move many HP e3000 users could be making right now. However beloved (remember the Wang VS?), the e3000 is a fossil.

What's needed for HP and its e3000 users is a strong dose of reality programming.

One of the biggest issues dogging the proposed merger of Compaq and HP is their overlapping technologies. Axing the e3000 line roughly three months after laying out its five-year plan to users was a stupid move. So it would behoove a combined HP/Compaq to be more sensitive as it moves forward. It needs to be especially careful when positioning any product that is a candidate for the ax. Don't mislead users. Constructing a longer-term product support program for older systems while structuring affordable deals that will enable less painful migrations builds good will.

As for users, news of the pending merger should have hastened a quick survey of the two companies' product lines. The fact is, HP has tried to appease e3000 users, but the technology is a long-term losing proposition. IT managers should have seen this coming, and they should have strategies in place to deal with it. Given the small installed base, factor in the age of the product line, add in the proprietary operating system and you should be asking yourself: Is further investment really wise? (The answer is no.)HP/Compaq and its customers need to reach an accommodation on how to equitably retire product lines. If they can't, IT careers will be derailed, and this marriage will not succeed.

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