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New HP channel chief vows to improve efficiency

Stephen DiFranco, the new head of the HP channel program, says the company will be easier to work with as it gets aggressive in networking, other markets.

New Hewlett-Packard channel chief Stephen DiFranco says he wants to make HP easier for partners to work. His appointment comes as the computing giant pushes aggressively into networking and other markets.

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HP last week named DiFranco vice president and general manager of its partner effort in the Americas. The appointment of the former Lenovo executive came after a six-month talent search that kicked off when former HP channel chief Adrian Jones took on new responsibilities last fall.

"We need to make it simpler to interact with HP, [although] it's not about reducing the number of touch points," DiFranco said in an interview with "You need a lot of people at HP, which is a broad company with a lot of product lines. The issue is to make sure that's well coordinated and make the channel the most efficient way to go to market."

HP fields a wide array of hardware and software, including netbooks, high-end servers, ProCurve (and now 3Com) networking gear, several storage offerings, the OpenView systems management line and more. The company is revving up its networking efforts, having bought 3Com and fighting off an incursion by former partner Cisco Systems in its key server space.

HP partners anxious over networking push

That networking push is sparking anxiety among the HP partners that are also Cisco partners and used to count on support from both vendors in joint data center sales. It was not unusual for a large HP partner to go into a shop and propose HP blade servers along with Cisco routers and EMC storage.

Now several of these partners say HP is pressuring them to push all-HP gear into those shops, even if that is not the best fit. (These partners say they are feeling less pressure from Cisco, probably because Cisco is totally new to servers, while HP has been in networking for some time with ProCurve.)

DiFranco's boss, Stephen Dewitt, senior vice president of HP's Personal Systems Group, said HP will find the right balance, with DiFranco's help.

"Of course we're fired up about the growth and development for our networking line," Dewitt said. "The opportunity for the channel is having balance in the networking space, having a set of options to allow customers to make technology decisions, economic decisions, a whole slew of decisions. We give them more choice."

Dewitt also acknowledged that there will always be a place for "best-in-class" products.

One New York-area partner said he is pleased with HP's networking push, because the company's warranty and support policy on networking hardware is much more customer-friendly than Cisco's policy. The addition of 3Com makes HP ProCurve more competitive with Cisco, both in the network and the data center, he said.

"HP gives you free [network] OS upgrades and like in-kind replacements," he added. "How do you beat that?"

HP channel chief seeks efficiency

On the other hand, the New York-area partner said HP could do much more to make partners happy. In his view, too much of HP's channel policy is dictated to partners by HP, putting the onus on partners to get things done without a ton of input from them.

"The word 'partnership' implies a 50/50 effort," he said. "HP tends to put 80% of the burden on the partner."

DiFranco said he would address those concerns.

"One of the things I've worked on in the last eight years is trying to find that balance in reaching out to partners in a true, open dialogue, and also spending time to make sure the back end of the operation is as efficient and streamlined as possible," he said.

DiFranco has more than 20 years of channel experience, most recently as vice president of consumer and commercial channels for Lenovo. Before that he was at AMD.

DiFranco is a good fit for HP's aggressive agenda, Dewitt said.

"We're all about growth, competitiveness and customer expansion," he said. "And our channel partners will evolve with us in lockstep."

A Midwestern HP Elite partner said he is glad that the transition to the new channel chief is over, because there was so much speculation going on.

"I just need to know he is pro-channel, not a hard ass, easy to talk to, reachable," this partner said.

Partners will get to hear more from DiFranco at the HP Americas Partner Conference in Las Vegas next month. HP scheduled the event directly against the previously announced Cisco Partner Summit in San Francisco.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Barbara Darrow, Senior News Director at, or follow us on twitter.

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