HP Inc's Poly opportunity: look beyond devices and software to a real collaboration strategy

Could its takeover of workspace collaboration specialist Poly turn HP Inc into a truly open and enterprise-grade collaboration giant? It certainly puts all the hardware in place – multimedia laptops, conference room cameras and audio gear, deskphones, headsets and so on, alongside the understanding of how to make it all work in a hybrid or office environment.

It does leave me wondering, however: while Poly understands the enterprise scope of collaboration, and cites compatibility with over a dozen different collaboration technologies, can it broaden the rather more parochial and device-centric vision of HP Inc? After all, the latter’s main involvement in the past has been reactive, responding to the narratives of others – which may be why its main collaboration offer is currently a set of laptops and convertible PCs certified for Teams and Zoom.

When there’s no standards, you need bridges

As anyone who must collaborate externally knows, there’s a lot more out there than that. Plus, in a world where there’s no de-facto standard, being able to act as a bridge or neutral arbiter – as Poly aims to do – ought to count for something.

Beyond those questions, this does look to be a good match. HP Inc was already trying to break into the enterprise collaboration space via the HP Presence portfolio it announced in 2021. As well as the high-spec laptops, this was due to include audio-video (AV) conference room gear developed in partnership with Bang & Olufsen.

(I say “due to include” because at the time of writing it was all still marked as “coming soon”, and it now looks rather redundant in the face of the Poly equivalents.)

From the Poly perspective, we’ve written before about the bind that AV hardware companies will find themselves in if they can’t develop the strategy or vision to compete with what’s on offer from the big collaboration players like Google, Microsoft and Zoom.

Poly has a deep understanding of collaboration and the needs and expectations of users. Meanwhile, HP Inc has the market reach – indeed, the opportunity that the latter presents was part of Poly CEO Dave Shull’s celebratory messaging when the deal was announced.

Crafting a shared vision that’s more human than technical

But can the two of them build on all that to craft a shared vision? For example, the workspace of the future is likely to use several software technologies, not just one – even if one of them is the company standard – because other companies that we work with will have other ‘standards’. That vision should also put human needs and benefits above the technical ones.

By coincidence, the news that HP Inc was buying Poly – itself the merger of Polycom and Plantronics – came the same day that I tidied my office and rediscovered my copy of the late David Packard’s 1995 company biography, The HP Way: How Bill Hewlett and I built our company.

David and Bill have both been gone more than 20 years now, of course, but I couldn’t help wondering how they would have viewed this acquisition. In particular, what would they have made of it alongside the 2015 split that turned Hewlett-Packard into HP Inc and HPE? And wouldn’t cutting-edge workplace collaboration tech have been meat and drink for the original HP Labs?

Collaboration strategy should go beyond mere devices and software

That’s the IT industry equivalent of ancient history though, and it is HP Inc that has now nailed its flag to the enterprise collaboration mast. Its opportunity is to use the Poly acquisition to broaden the discussion beyond devices and specific application software into questions of collaboration strategy. The right approach here should enable you to mix and match devices and apps without changing the overall infrastructure, for example.

Alongside those thoughts, my diversion into HP history also got me thinking about the word ‘enterprise’. It prompted an important realisation: Workspace collaboration is no longer ‘just’ an end-user productivity tool.

Today, collaboration is an essential component of modern enterprise strategy and infrastructure – and both businesses and vendors alike ignore that fact at their peril.

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