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Oren Ariel:

A talk with HP Labs Israelís new director
 
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Some have this idea that if you build it, they will buy it. That's not true. You have to adapt your technology to the market.

By Jamie Beckett, November 2007



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The small team of researchers at HP Labs Israel has had a bigimpact on HP’s business. A prolific group of inventors, they have contributed to HP’s digital cameras, scanners and to many of the company’s printers. Abraham Lempel, who founded the lab in 1994, was one of the creators of the algorithm that allows data to be compressed and transmitted over the Net efficiently.

Oren Ariel, the new director of HP Labs Israel, brings a strong background in enterprise software to his new job. At Mercury Interactive and then at HP, he was responsible for creating software that helps companies align IT with business objectives like cutting costs or learning more about their customers.

 

What made you want to work at HP Labs?

At HP Labs in Israel, there is a spirit of entrepreneurship. That was one of the important factors in my decision to come here. One of the most exciting things for me about moving to HP Labs Israel is being able to work with multiple business units – exploring where we can take one piece of technology or innovation and put our fingerprint in multiple places in HP.

Another is having the headroom to do innovation. When you are working in the context of a business unit, it is really hard to look very far into the future. The thing that I like about going to Labs is that this is what it is all about. This is your charter: to try to see ahead of the curve.

 

What challenges do you see ahead for HP Labs?

The biggest competition HP Labs faces is from startup companies funded by venture capital. These startups have a one in a hundred chance of succeeding, but they are able to take chances.

We should be able to take chances as well. My intention is to continue to develop this spirit of entrepreneurship, getting more people on board who want to change the world.

 

How does it feel to take over from someone like Abraham Lempel?

I got to know Abraham over the course of the last several months. His are big shoes to step into. He is not only a wise person; he also has a great deal of organizational know-how.

I'm taking advantage of Abraham’s knowledge and wisdom as much as I can. Often, when you step into a new role, it’s because something is broken and you are there to fix it. And then it’s easy to show progress. But I'm being handed by Abraham something that is basically a shining diamond that he carefully built over the years. I need to make sure that it stays that way – and to make it even greater and shinier.

 

Before HP bought Mercury, you were VP and Chief Architect there. How do your experiences there shape the way you will manage HP Labs Israel?

I learned at Mercury to be customer oriented – and that it’s important to measure yourself against business goals. This is highly applicable in the Labs environment.

At HP Labs Israel, we should treat ourselves as a collection of startup initiatives and measure ourselves no differently than the way startup companies do when they face rounds of funding. When startups reach a certain value, they go on to the next round. If they don’t, then you pull the plug.

What I've learned at Mercury is to always ask the hard questions: Why do we need this investment? What value does it bring to our business? Another experience I bring from Mercury is my software know-how. If you want to build a leading software business, you have to be very fast and aggressive. Software moves at the speed of light. It relies on getting the best talent to work for you and making sure that talent is highly motivated and creative.

Last, but not least, is the attitude that we had at Mercury: Take no prisoners. Go after the competition aggressively. Not being shy about thinking radically or taking risks.

 

So you intend to take HP Labs Israel in new directions?

Yes, towards creating management software and software in general. This is all really preliminary right now. After all, I’m just starting. HP Labs in Israel has been primarily focused on printing and imaging. It doesn’t have much experience in enterprise software, the area that Mercury operates in. The Lab has the great advantage of being close to three business units: Indigo, Scitex and Mercury. Most of what the Lab has been working on is aimed at Indigo and Scitex. So one of my goals is to ramp up enterprise software activity. I've already hired a couple of people in this area.

 

Is there anything about the new position that makes you nervous?

I didn’t sit down with a piece of paper and review pros and cons. The decision to take the job was based more on a gut feeling. But it’s a new role for me in some ways. I’ve worked in multiple startup companies and in a big successful company where there was always a business connection. Here, the customers are really HP organizations. The customer is HP.

 


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