REDWOOD CITY, Calif. – HP Labs is making a number of big bets on new technology areas as part a refocused effort to make its research pay off commercially. The company announced a major reorganization of Labs in March and elaborated on the plans today here at the Dow Jones VentureWire Technology show.
“We’re not focused on next quarter’s profits or the short term; we want to present HP, the mother ship, with a range of opportunities,” said Prith Banerjee, senior vice president of research at HP and director of HP Labs.
One of those is information management. “We’re not a significant player now, but the information explosion problem is facing all of us today,” said Banerjee. “In the next five years, the world will create more information than has been produced in the history of the planet …. Consumers and business, from pictures and videos on YouTube to the gobs and gobs of information in the enterprise space with customer relationship management systems, ERP, blogs and email.
“Businesses have to figure out a way to store that data and analyze and mine that data and how to exploit it for business intelligence.”
While there are already a variety of well-established business intelligence solutions, Banerjee said HP is taking a more advanced “operational intelligence” approach.
“The idea is that as soon as something happens, your information management software provides actionable business insight to your CIO,” he said. “We’re not in that space, but we’re making a bet there.”
Among other areas Banerjee discussed were cloud computing and mobility. Cloud computing is one of those difficult challenges he said requires deep research. How big of a challenge? “Billions of users accessing millions of services from tens of thousand of service providers using millions of servers; you need data transmitted at exabytes of speed.”
In July, HP Labs announced it’s already working with Intel and Yahoo on parts of its cloud computing initiative.
Banerjee also mentioned work in more “natural” and intuitive user interfaces the Labs are doing that will extend to mobile devices. “The intelligent device of the future would provide smart contextual information,” he said. “It would know who you are and where you are.”
On the latter point, he said many of today’s GPS-enabled devices have the location part down and some sense of identify based on log-ins and profile information when the user provides it.
On the hunt for new ideas
Banerjee said HP is working with a number of venture capital firms as part of its push towards a more open innovation model. He said VCs typically get 2,000 proposals from startup companies a year, but only fund about a dozen of them.
“They hear a lot of ideas, there are a lot of bright entrepreneurs out there in Silicon Valley, Austin, Bangalore and elsewhere,” he said. “We want to find a way to bring some of those into HP Labs.”
Basically, HP is working with select VCs to forward some of the more promising startups they think could benefit from HP’s resources. If HP’s interested, it will give them Labs resources, much like an incubator, and either license the technology or spin it out as a company.
The VCs would share revenue or participate in some way in return for the initial reference. Another new approach at the labs is that business-oriented managers at HP are directly involved in Lab projects.
“We did not license technologies in the past, but society needs to be benefit from these innovations and there are some real revenue opportunities to make these ideas a lot more financially successful,” said Banerjee.
As one hypothetical example, Banerjee said if HP got a breakthrough idea for a new display technology, it could license that to a manufacturer which in turn would charge competitors who wanted it, like Dell. So it would, in theory, cost Dell more to offer the same technology HP has access to license-free.