HP and the digital transformation of printing

Digital cameras have revolutionised the practice of photography to such an extent that it has forced some of the world’s most established camera makers to call an end to production of their standard film cameras. And the parallel effect of this revolution has been the surge in sales of colour printers as the development of photos increasingly becomes a ‘do-it-yourself’ activity.

For companies that have pinned their future strategy on this digital revolution, the rewards have been handsome. For Hewlett-Packard in particular, the ability to exploit this transition from analogue to digital has put its imaging and printing division at the top of the industry pile. In its fiscal 2005, this division alone generated $26 billion in revenue (almost 30% of HP’s total) – a figure big enough to put the division within the top 100 of the Fortune 500 list of companies.

By default, this makes Vyomesh Joshi, HP’s executive vice president in charge of the Imaging and Printing Group, the world’s most powerful printing executive. His portfolio includes worldwide responsibility for all of HP’s printing, scanning and digital camera platforms, as well as leading the company’s digital imaging strategy to transform the commercial printing market to digital publishing.

His policy to grow the division is simple. “Our growth is going to come from pages,” he says. And he intends to do this by capturing more market share for HP from the trillions of pages that are printed annually, by moving into areas where digital transformation is happening, such as billboards and package printing.

Joshi’s goal is to add yet another $1.5 billion to his division’s revenue. While this may seem a tall order, Joshi is widely regarded as being well capable of meeting these expectations.

This extra revenue will more than likely come from business customers. While consumer printer unit shipments dropped by 1% during 2006, commercial unit shipments grew by 14%.

 During his four year tenure as head of the printing division, revenue has increased by over $7 billion. Such is Joshi’s stature that in early 2005 he was tasked with turning around HP’s struggling PC division after then-CEO Carly Fiorina decided to merge his group with the PC organisation.

That combination was regarded by Fiorina’s successor, Mark Hurd, (and indeed by Joshi) as ill-conceived, and after less than five months the two divisions were separated again.

He showed his support for that by staying on at a division in which he has spent most of his 24 years at HP. With a master’s graduate in electrical engineering, Joshi (known to colleagues and associates simply as ‘VJ’) joined HP in 1980 as a research engineer for pen plotters. Since then he has moved up through HP’s hierarchy, gaining experience within the colour and large format colour printing, home imaging and inkjet imaging divisions. En route, he has been responsible for introducing a large number of new products, such as HP’s PCL 5C colour printer language and drivers, and in 1997, a complete digital photography system, including a digital camera, scanner and photo printer.

Joshi’s recent focus has been on leveraging the Internet to accelerate the shift from analogue to digital. Last year he orchestrated the acquisition of Snapfish and Pixaco, giving HP a presence in the online photo sharing and printing services market, a move perhaps inspired by his position as a non-executive board member of Yahoo.

But he is also looking to ensure that HP plays a major role in new territories such as China, India and Brazil. “The emerging markets are a very important trend for us,” he says. “But we need to design our products very differently for these markets.” A E70 printer in China, for example, is pushed to the limit, being used to print 5,000 to 7,000 pages every month, compared to the Western average of less than 500 pages.

Given Joshi’s track record, the challenge of replicating HP’s success in these markets is certainly not insurmountable – especially given the resources he has at his disposal. The Imaging and Printing division is by far HP’s most profitable business, with net income of $3.4 billion in 2005 (largely thanks to the substantial profits it makes on cartridges sales), and its lavish R&D efforts reflect that. And even though Joshi has been forced to lose 3,200 staff as part of a cost cutting review instigated by Hurd, no-one in the sector doubts his staying power as the most influential figure in printing.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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