HP CEO Leo Apotheker expects the company's experience in the consumer market will help it expand its IT business as users bring personal devices to work and expect corporate support.
But the world he has inheritied is lot more complicated than the one imagined by his predecessors.
The major threat faced by Carly Fiorina, HP's CEO from 1999-2005, was primarily IBM, and to certain extent, Sun. Cisco (Fiorina served on its board) and Oracle (Fiorina delivered a keynote at Oracle's big user conference) were friends, and its relationship with Microsoft was solid.
Fiorina's successor, Mark Hurd, (HP CEO 2005-10), was principally focused on surviving the recession and fortifying the company in its continuing battle against IBM, particularly versus its fast growing services division.
In 2008, HP bought EDS, gaining a huge services boost.
The next two years, competition escalated as Cisco started selling servers, HP bought Cisco rival 3Com, Oracle bought Sun and then last summer hired Hurd. The Microsoft relationship was still solid through the Hurd resignation last summer.
And the business has become even more complicated for Apotheker.
Apple has gone from being a curiosity in Fiorina's day, an emerging irritant for Hurd, to a major threat to HP today. That's all due to the success of its iPad and its impact on PC sales .
Finally, Apotheker's plan to ship WebOS (From the former Palm, which was acquired under Hurd in 2010) on all its PCs has put a question around HP's relationship with Microsoft.
Apotheker's HP, in effect, is at war with just about everybody.
Although Apotheker stressed the company's cloud strategy in remarks this week, his real plan for prevailing is more about utilizing the power of HP's broad consumer base.
Apotheker needs to create cloud services. That's not optional.
But utilizing a core customer base, HP's consumers, to win the hearts and minds of corporate IT is the strategy that it will use to win enterprise market share.
The consumer-focused strategy was revealed by Apotheker in an interview with Computerworld sister publication InfoWorld.
Based on that interview, here's an analysis of his key moves.
One : Consumers are our friends: IBM left the consumer market, therefore, IBM doesn't have as many friends as HP.
IBM exited the PC market in 2004 when it decided to sell its personal computer business to the Lenovo Group. But the market has changed since then. Consumers are increasingly using their smartphones, tablets and their own laptops for work -- and are expecting corporate IT support. From Apotheker's perspective, "that is a huge advantage" over IBM because HP understands the consumer business.
Two : IT managers are also our friends; therefore, HP has a lot of friends.
IT managers are losing control over a company's IT direction. The new influencers can be anyone from cloud-using board members, to mini-groundswells, such as the ad hoc adoption of tablets by a marketing team.
IT decision making today is distributed, which is a major reason why HP's is creating apps stores for both consumer and enterprise products. Underscore enterprise.
Says Apotheker, "What we really aim for is that individual within an enterprise, the famous -- for the lack of a better term, forgive me if it's a horrible term -- 'prosumer.'"
Three : Apple has lots of consumer friends, HP has lots of IT manager friends; we'll see whose friends matter the most.
IT managers may not have the control they once had over the overall IT direction, but they still make specific product decisions.
HP needs a good alternative to Apple, in particular, and is counting on the WebOS to deliver it.
HP plans to produce a range of WebOS-enabled devices that will also be easy for corporations to tie into their backend infrastructure and security. That will be a big selling point.
But will HP, at some point, advertise the WebOS as a Windows replacement, taking on what is now the known world? Just where is the WebOS going? "Fair question. I'll talk to you next time," said Apotheker.