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Successful innovation:

Director Dick Lampman discusses how it's done at HP Labs

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Our job ultimately is to influence a very large company. If you want to do that, you have to have big goals, big ambition.

January 2007

Innovation is essential for any company that wants to lead, but there's no simple formula for achieving or measuring it. In a recent interview, HP Labs Director Dick Lampman talked about how this is accomplished in HP's central research lab.

Lampman, who is also senior vice president for research at HP, recently announced plans to retire in 2007. In the interview that follows, he provides an overview of HP Labs' strategy as it enters the new year and he reviews some recent successes.

How would you describe your management style?

Lampman: It really comes down to empowering leaders. We deal with the whole company, so there's a lot of complexity. I also encourage people to set a high level of ambition. Our job ultimately is to influence a very large company. If you want to do that, you have to have big goals, big ambition.

 

Can you describe the major company activities owned by HP Labs?

Lampman: HP Chairman and CEO Mark Hurd says we should be ahead of the road map. If you think about it, the products and services of HP are the responsibility of the business units. Each of those business units has development programs, a road map of products for the future.

Our job is to look beyond that to understand technology changes, competitive information, emerging customer needs and industry shifts. We think ahead to what kind of technology options HP will want in the future, both for the businesses we're in and for new opportunities that could expand the company. If you look at the history of HP over the years, we've continuously found new ways to create these opportunities.

 

How do Labs activities influence the business strategy?

Lampman: I'd say in two fundamental ways. First is through HP Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy and Technology Officer Shane Robison's staff, which includes both HP Labs and the chief technology officers for all the company's major businesses. We talk about big issues — how to leverage different activities in the company — and think about things that are going on outside. This is an opportunity for HP Labs to get input and provide input.

The other way is something that we do pretty much every day. We are heavily engaged with the company to listen and understand what's going on, address problems we could solve that would make a big difference and help present new ideas to people. That occurs at every level of the company, from individual technical contributors all the way up to Executive Council members.

A lot of times people think, in a research lab, people are laboring away and occasionally something gets thrown over the fence. But the reality is that there's a tremendous amount of interaction going on — thinking, exploring and considering ideas and bringing new technologies forward. We also do a lot of direct work with HP's customers, which helps calibrate us and feeds into that strategy discussion. It's an ongoing, very dynamic process.

 

Can you explain the primary focus areas for Labs?

Lampman: Our strategy includes support for the company's growth initiatives, but extends beyond that. We focus primarily on five research areas.

The first is what we refer to as "reinventing the economics of IT." A key element of this is research supporting HP’s Adaptive Infrastructure strategy which includes our work in energy-aware computing This has obviously become a huge topic and, fortunately, we were ready when the company needed it. It also includes newer things like information management and information services.

The second focuses on HP's printing business. This includes a lot of programs around industrial and commercial printing with HP's Indigo digital presses -- programs that involve both managing documents in the enterprise and the next generation of Snapfish, HP's online photo service. In addition, HP's Digital Entertainment Services organization draws on work that we've been driving for many years.

The third area is industry-related or vertical market capabilities. Traditionally, HP's been very strong in telecommunications and we've continued to invest in next-generation mobile telecommunications technologies. We've also put a big investment around the media and entertainment industry.

The fourth strategy is around HP's services business. Our customers are asking more and more of HP in terms of services. And, traditionally, services have been thought of more as a means of delivering technology to customers. We’ve been working on this for a long time — thinking not just in terms of reducing the cost of labor but actually using technology to help change the services business itself.

The fifth is is what which we call "emerging and disruptive." These are things that we think have a lot of promise, but are not directly tied to either a current or obvious strategy next step. For example, we know our work in nanotechnology is going to be very disruptive, but it's going to be a very valuable technology suite too. However, it's not entirely obvious how it will play out. How could we use it to create an advantage for HP? It's a little bit farther out in the sense that we're taking more risk on things that we think have very high reward, if we're successful.

 

Can you talk a bit about collaboration?

Lampman: There are some really notable collaborations. One that's really quite impressive to me was when the company decided to go after commercial printing.

Right now, we have three Labs geographically distributed that are working very closely to drive new technologies of that business: A team here in Palo Alto is working on press-related technologies; researchers in our Bristol, UK, lab is working on new workflow software to drive that press; and scientists in our Israel lab area working on a lot of the key software and algorithmic infrastructure that goes into those presses.

The seamless fusion of ideas going from research, flowing into the products, and the way the teams are able to work together is just amazing. You've got people thousands of miles apart all working with a common vision of where we want to take that press.

 

There's a perception among some that HP no longer innovates. What are your thoughts about that?

Lampman: If you look at the IT industry 10 years ago, there was a lot of excitement about having your own microprocessor. As a company, we've really taken the position that we'd like to build value on top of those components.

I know that when people look at this they say, "Well, gosh, you don't make your own microprocessors, how can you be a technology company?" I compare it to the industrial revolution -- at one point, everybody made their own screws and then eventually they realized they could buy them from somebody else. This was progress. We want to focus our R&D energies as a company, and certainly this is what we're doing in Labs, in areas that really are critical to customers. Trying to invent yet another microprocessor is not a way to do that.

If you look at HP's NC2400 laptop, it’s a wonderful product, but not because we made the chips inside of it. It is because we thought about innovative ways to bring the elements together. If you look at our Itanium-based servers, there are HP chipsets in there and HP software that we wrap around all of this.

There’s a lot of confusion around this, but as HP continues to focus on these growth initiatives a lot of these questions will get answered for people. I think when people look at what Mark Hurd's doing in terms of really putting a focus on differentiating ourselves -- and that's in our volume products and our high-value products -- it will become very obvious to people what we're doing.

 

Would you say that patents are a good or a bad metric for innovation?

Lampman: Patents are important for obvious reasons in terms of protecting our intellectual property. But they are actually a weak indicator of innovation. I'd say an absence of patents would indicate you're not innovating, but having huge numbers of them doesn't automatically correlate with innovation.

At the end of the day, the best indicator of innovation is if you have customer preference for your products. And, where that ultimately shows up is something you can measure. If you're growing profitably, profit comes from having products that you build efficiently and that customers want.

 

What innovations from HP Labs have contributed to revenue growth over the last year?

Lampman: Yes, I can. For instance, if you look at the C-class Blades — HP's new blade architecture — we made major contributions to that, particularly around heating, and cooling and energy consumption. It was a very timely contribution, since we started working on it long before energy got so expensive.

There are also, the OpenCall Media Platform and Digital Media Platform, which are becoming very big ingredients as HP continues to strengthen its position in telecommunications and media industries. A lot of work we've done in color and image processing has opened up new avenues for the Indigo digital presses in terms of photo books that people are printing at places like Snapfish. Our presses are used very heavily in that area and we've been able to really strengthen our position in that. Those are a few examples, but it's a long list.

 

Can you talk about emerging markets?

Lampman: We have an HP Labs component in India. When we went there, our goal was to look at growth opportunities for HP that are geographically based because we have this intersection of two mega trends — rapidly rising incomes in that part of the world, and at the same time, the declining cost of our technology. That presents a tremendous opportunity to add new customers.

Having the right price points will help, but there are a lot of non-economic barriers. One of these is language – many nations use non-English/European characters in their writing, which means that traditional keyboards won't work for them. We've been looking at new new ways of inputting data. For example, the lab developed a pen-based gesture keyboard that could be bundled with PCs, which would allow people to easily input data in their own language and without prior knowledge of English or typing.

Another barrier is that many parts of the world lack reliable telephone or network connections. We're investigating ways to tie paper into digital workflows and at the same offer the the security and protection that digital systems provide. We’re exploring how to create secure document architectures in environments that are primarily paper-based.

 

Additional thoughts?

Lampman: Innovation is core for a company like HP that really wants to produce better products and continue to lead. But I'd go beyond that. I think in today's world we need to innovate not just in R&D but everywhere in the company.

My fundamental belief is that each and every one of us needs to continue to think about how we can help the company innovate. We have to apply innovation to everything that we do.

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