HPNet push forces Interex group to expand focus

Hewlett-Packard's frantic Internet push is forcing its hardware-oriented Interex user group to transform itself -- or risk losing the HP funds that have sustained it for so long.

After 25 years of providing a forum mainly for users of HP's Unix and HP 3000 hardware platforms, Interex is being forced to recast itself as an organisation with broader interests, ranging from enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications to the Linux operating system.

When the group gathers for its annual meeting in mid-August in San Francisco, the event will feature several new programs like ERP World '99, an E-Services Summit, an Internet Application Service Provider Forum and a Linux Summit.

"The Interex/HP relationship is undergoing change, in large part because of HP's decision to shift its focus away from hardware-only sales," said Rick Saunders, chairman of Interex. Interex has adopted "a broader mission" that also embraces Internet IT professionals, he said.

One senior Interex member, who requested anonymity, said much of the co-marketing funds that HP used to give to third-party vendors supporting its hardware products are being rechannelled to its new Internet partners.

So hardware partners that bought exhibitor space or sponsored events at past Interex shows may no longer have HP's co-marketing dollars to participate, the source said. Even so, HP World '99 will have more vendors exhibiting and participating than ever before because of HP's broader focus, Saunders said.

An HP spokeswoman said it was accurate that the company's relationship with Interex was changing as a result of HP's Internet focus but refused to comment further.

The changes at Interex come at a time when other long-standing groups are also transforming themselves. The Digital Equipment Computer User Society (DECUS) and International Tandem User Group are considering a merger.

"The pace of technology change is beginning to overwhelm the user groups' ability to keep up with it," said Jeff Killeen, a member of the DECUS board of directors. Compaq's Internet push, for instance, "will require a complete refocusing of what we offer" over the next two years, he said.

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