HP Offers to Acquire Poly

On March 28, HP announced an offer of $3.3 billion to acquire integrated communications vendor Poly. Poly, created from the merger of Plantronics and Polycom, acquiring @PolyCompany is interesting because both firms have a long history of supporting remote and home offices. Both companies have dealt with the challenges of the digital office. But this acquisition hints at a potential split for HP.

HP is obviously known as a printer company and printer ink prices ($3,000 per gallon) make even the most expensive gas pumps look like amazing bargains. But HP also has its Z by HP workstation brand, which is well-aligned to the Poly portfolio. It would be great to see that combined Poly/Z portfolio come together as the future of the digital office and to create that new “office in a box” or “office in a browser” that is always a goal for tech companies. There are still a few gaps in the portfolio, though.

The starting point is good spatial audio. As Poly has known since its telepresence days, 2 big secrets to optimal video conferencing are life-sized video and spatial audio. Both are hardware accessory issues: camera & speakers. Poly is great at the former, so-so at the latter. To take this a step further, HP Poly can be the smart accessory (and maybe even the programmable accessory) company providing all of the accessories beyond the phone and PC to support a better office, but this also requires continued API investment. Poly could have been the smart watch & VR headset company, but didn’t keep up. The opportunity is still there if Poly takes the immersive home office seriously and provides the one-stop shop for transforming the kitchen/guest bedroom/garage/remote office room into a communications hub.

And all that video and audio data is an obvious fit with the #datascience @ZbyHP portfolio. So, if all this makes sense, what is the issue?

Printer Ink.

For HP to pursue this path, it must embrace a business model path with one eye towards the actual Metaverse: VR, AR, workflow digitization, & eliminating the need for print. Z/Poly provides an obvious set of next steps: smart accessories, continued growth of the developer community, process automation & workflow orchestration Printers can be a part of this future if they are “iPhoned” to support higher dpi & eliminate the need for constant ink but anybody who has ever tried to implement a printer from scratch knows just how prehistoric this experience is compared to the mobile, SaaS, Big Data world that is pervasive in our consumer lives where even our refrigerators and light bulbs are now able to give us recommendations.

Does HP have the stomach to truly disrupt itself over the next decade, as Netflix wiped out its mail business & destroyed the value of its DVD library? Or will it spin out Z/Poly to maximize value? Or will Poly become a cash cow held back by legacy HP? HP now has more tools to truly reinvent the digital home office when remote employees can dip into the real estate budget. It will be fairly clear within this calendar year which of these three options ends up being HP’s true intentions: wither, cash cow, or innovate.

For the sake of the innovative geniuses who have worked at Plantronics and Poly love the years, I really hope their technology gets a chance to reach the next level. And as an analyst, I look forward to seeing what big brains @blairplez @DaveMichels @zkerravala have to say about this proposed acquisition as I have found their guidance and perspective invaluable over the years as an analyst who has dabbled in their market.

From a Technology Expense Management perspective, the big takeaway here is that the telecom environment is going farther and farther away from the dedicated phone systems and now even mobile devices that have traditionally been the hub of voice and video. HP’s acquisition of Poly will be part of a trend of creating more focused home office solutions as the future of the hybrid workplace requires less investment in 100,000 square foot (10,000 square meter) headquarters spaces and more investment in the 20 square feet (2 square meters) that we choose to work in at any given point. These accessories will require purchasing and tracking just as all business assets require and may have additional connectivity or computational support demands over time just as smartwatches, connected Internet of Things devices, and devices using edge computing require. Connected devices belong in a unified endpoint management solution, but this HP acquisition may start leading to some questions as to whether remote office management is part of a managed print strategy, enterprise mobility strategy, or general IT asset strategy. Amalgam Insights recommends that remote office tech investment, which will eventually match enterprise mobility as a $2,000/employee/year total cost of ownership for all relevant hybrid and home employees, should be handled as part of an enterprise mobility strategy where device management and logistics have already been defined.