When Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) announces Q4 2013 earnings on Nov. 26, some pundits will hope for improved PC and server sales. I won't. Instead, CEO Meg Whitman must address five other key areas to prove that HP truly is on the road to recovery.
The key indicators investors, customers and partners must watch:
1. Listen for Channel Clues: HP leans heavily on so-called channel partners -- technology consultants, integrators, cloud providers and other companies that recommend, sell and install HP gear. In recent years, HP has alienated some of those companies amid questionable business and sales strategies.
Corrective Action: Whitman back in October shifted Sue Barsamian into a new role, dubbed senior VP, worldwide indirect sales. It was an extremely smart move -- designed to ensure HP's own corporate sales team no longer competes with partners for business. In a recent interview, Barsamian delivered all the right answers. But has she really made an impact so far? Whitman may provide clues on the earnings call.
2. Show HP Moonshot Progress: The traditional x86 server business market is shrinking as customers increasingly shift applications to public clouds. Heck, even IBM has been trying to sell its x86 server business.
Corrective Action: HP and some rivals have been developing so-called micro-servers -- some of which are based on ARM processors. HP's product line, called Moonshot, is in its infancy. But Whitman must offer some clues about how Moonshot sales will potentially ramp up. HP will need to move fast because small, nimble micro-server rivals are emerging.
3. Leap Ahead in Networking: Cisco Systems (NASDAQ:CSCO) won the traditional networking wars years ago. Cisco dominates in the switch and router markets.
Corrective Action: Software-defined networking (SDN) represents a new opportunity for rivals like HP to disrupt the industry. But here again, HP must face big rivals that are moving to SDN (Cisco, others) as well as startups like Big Switch Networks, which is hiring executives to build sales fast. Whitman needs to offer some clues on SDN-related sales on HP.
4. Master 3-D Printing: HP led the traditional printer market, but sales have been limping along.
Corrective Action: How did HP miss the first 3-D Printing wave? How? Whitman has said HP will get serious about the market. She needs to make a bold statement on the earnings call.
5. HP Cloud Revenues: HP Cloud, the company's alternative to Amazon Web Services and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows Azure, needs to show some progress.
Corrective Action: In addition to the public cloud service, HP has a range of SaaS applications that help businesses to manage their IT infrastructure, protect data and more. It's time for Whitman to share some clues about HP's combined IaaS and SaaS sales.
The Bottom Line: HP won't be a growth company anytime soon. Sales may continue to slip a bit for months to come. But investors and customers will forgive weak top-line sales (involving PCs, servers and printers) if Whitman shows organic growth for HP's next-generation product lines. Tell us about that growth, Meg.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.
Additional disclosure: My current long holdings in the technology sector include Red Hat and Rackspace.