Hewlett Packard’s announcement that it’s combining its PC and printer divisions is meeting skepticism. Larry Dignan, editor-in-chief of ZDNet, had this to say:
“Hewlett-Packard says it’s combining its printer and PC divisions partially because the move will drive “innovation across personal computing and printing.” Oh really? Color me decidedly skeptical on that claim, which was touted in the company’s announcement today. My mental block: What exactly are the touch points between a printer and a PC, and where does the innovation lie? HP does have printing innovation. Its inkjet technology can be used for drug delivery, for instance. However, unless your PC is delivering doses of pharmaceuticals to you, it’s a stretch to see the connection.”
For this month’s LAB, lets put the S.I.T. method to the challenge. Imagine being part of this newly-combined HP organization. Here is how you might apply each of the five techniques of Systematic Inventive Thinking. The key is to leverage each technique in a way that forces non-obvious connections between the two units, laptop and printer. These configurations become “virtual products.” We use Function-Follows-Form to work backwards to problems they solve or benefits they deliver.
Start with component lists (ink-jet printer and laptop):
- print cartridge
- stepper motor
- stabilizer bar
- paper feed
- operating system
1. SUBTRACTION: Removing an essential component on one unit and replacing it with something from the other unit.
- Virtual Product: An ink-jet printer with no ink.
- Concept: The printer still prints onto paper, but it is not visible except on the screen of the laptop. A user can print text or images that are invisible on the paper. A specially-equipped HP laptop decodes it.
- Potential Benefits: This would be valuable in situations where you want to add information to an existing document but without others seeing it. For example, health care providers could add hidden information to patient records to be compliant with government privacy laws.
2. MULTIPLICATION: Making a copy of a component in one unit and placing a changed version within the other unit.
- Virtual Product: The laptop hard drive is copied and placed within the printer.
- Concept: The printer performs as a backup storage unit. It backs up selected files sent to the printer.
- Potential Benefits: Using the printer as a document storage device allows the user to print documents directly from the hard drive without having a laptop attached. This would be useful in situations where a file needs to be routinely printed, perhaps in a location away from a laptop or wireless connection.
3. TASK UNIFICATION: A component in one unit steals the job of a component on the other unit.
- Virtual Product: The camera of the laptop performs input and calibration of the print head.
- Concept: The laptop and printer are connected visually via on board camera system so that the computer can image what is being printed and compare it to what was sent.
- Potential Benefits: Possibly improves accuracy of printing. This take advantage of visualizationn technology and links it to create better printing performance.
4. DIVISION: Dividing a component physically or functionally and re-arranging it onto the other unit (in space or time).
- Virtual Product: The case of the laptop is divided off physically and connected to the printer
- Concept: The laptop case connects to the printer in the form of a docking station.
- Potential Benefits: The printer and laptop are docked together to allow faster file transfer for large print jobs. The printer could have a small form factor, stripping out the traditional bulkiness so that the unit sits right under or behind the laptop.
5. ATTRIBUTE DEPENDENCY: Creating (or breaking) dependencies between internal attributes of each unit.
- Virtual Product: As keys of the keyboard are typed, the printer types each character.
- Concept: The printer/laptop combination becomes a digital typewriter, functioning the same as original typewriters.
- Potential Benefits: This concept would be for people who need to see the words as they are printed on paper, perhaps for a particular type of reading material, advertising, or industrial printing application.
HP has a long legacy of innovation and leadership. Let’s see how effective it is at making good on the promise. Despite the skepticism, I like HP’s chances of making this merger work.