Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

HP Wants to Optimize Your Information, Whatever That Means

Ever since Hewlett-Packard announced that it would spend $11.7 billion to acquire the British software firm Autonomy, there have been questions regarding how that company will fit within HP.

HP will answer some of those questions today, with a big announcement of a new enterprise hardware, software and services platform at a company event in Vienna. HP calls this its Next Generation Information Platform: IDOL 10. Practically speaking, the suite includes Autonomy, with its software smarts around finding meaning in unstructured data as varied as TV interview transcripts or chains of email communications; and the analytical muscle of Vertica, a company HP acquired in February.

The way HP sees it — and, to be fair, it’s not the first company to make this kind of argument — the ratio of data that businesses are creating to what they actually use productively is pretty big. Only 15 percent of that information is neatly organized into the rows and columns of a traditional relational database, HP argues, leaving a lot more information — fully 85 percent — that would be useful if you could only capture it, determine its meaning, and analyze it: Video, audio, email, texts, social media, meeting notes. Add to that the explosion of other real-world information gathered from sensors and other measuring devices, and it gets even more complex. It’s a concept that HP is calling “information optimization.”

Mike Lynch, the former CEO of Autonomy, is expected to speak at today’s announcement event in Vienna. And if you happen to be there, you’ll probably also hear from Jan Zadak, HP’s executive vice president for global sales. I talked to Zadak last week, and he filled me in on the news.

It’s all about capturing that “lost” 50 percent to 85 percent of information and making it useful to businesses, Zadak told me. “What we’re trying to do is address the notion of how to enable enterprises around the world to harness the potential of data,” he said. “Traditionally, what you would do is run your relational databases and put all your information in columns and rows, and then you would crunch your data. That is what you would typically do to address what we call ‘structured data’ — everything we can pull into a structural database. But 85 percent of information is unstructured — images, charts, emails, tweets. All types of conversation.”

HP has researched the issue a bit, and reckons that more than half of the information produced at your average business remains unconnected, undiscovered and unused. It’s sort of like that old myth that people use only a small percentage of the capacity of their brains — except it’s probably true. Most business decisions are made with incomplete information, and who wouldn’t want to try to to address that shortcoming?

There’s a lot to the announcement from a product perspective. I won’t go into everything, but here are some highlights. There’s an HP social media solution, intended to help companies mine useful information out of feeds on Twitter and Facebook and elsewhere, to improve customer experiences and make sure the brand isn’t suffering because of some over-eager or ticked-off commenter.

And there’s a backup system, sold under HP’s StoreOnce brand, that came directly from work done by HP Labs. The idea is to store data once, rather than make unnecessary, redundant copies that take up precious storage space.

The announcements also contain some new dashboarding and performance monitoring tools that are aimed at helping IT execs better monitor what their systems are doing and whether or not they’re performing as efficiently as they should be.

Back to Zadak for a moment. As head of global sales, he’s the one who has been charged by CEO Meg Whitman with providing the “single face of HP” to enterprise clients. To that end, I asked him what his priorities are for 2012: Apparently that means spending a lot of time developing the sales force. He took over HP’s Sales University when Thomas Hogan left the company in April, and so far “several thousand” HP employees have been through it. Expect more investments around supporting the sales force generally. Given that so many business segments saw declines in sales in the most recent quarter, that doesn’t seem like a bad idea.

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