Reporter's notebook: HP World users disdain offshore support move

They also focused on the future of HP events and user conferences

CHICAGO -- HP World is now over, and users at this week's event focused on more than just Hewlett-Packard Co.'s efforts to reassure them about its recent supply chain woes and earnings.

They also weighed in on offshore outsourcing and the fate of upcoming HP events and conferences.

HP is using its offshore facility in Bangalore, India, to deliver about 6% of its call center customer support, primarily desktop support, and may shift more work overseas in the future. But the company is stepping gingerly because of language issues.

At a forum for HP users at HP World in Chicago this week, Denys Beauchemin, chairman of the HP user group Interex, said his group has received "hundreds" of comments from HP customers angry with the company's outsourcing of its customer support. The most common problem has to do with language difficulties that U.S. customers are experiencing with HP's Bangalore-based workers.

Bob Floyd, HP's vice president of support services, said the company is outsourcing only a small portion of its call center support, mostly its desktop business, "so that we can work through some issues" such as technical training and language. He said the company wouldn't expand its overseas support until it's certain it meets the standards customers expect.

Whither HP World

At a meeting of Interex members, there was no apparent disagreement over the decision to continue holding HP World, despite HP's efforts to get Interex to back its technical solutions conference now scheduled for September 2005 in New Orleans. HP recently announced plans to hold its own conference and invited HP user groups to join the effort.

Although 72% of the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based user group's annual revenue of about $8 million comes from its conferences, Beauchemin said the financial risks of staying with HP or remaining independent were equal. "One was no more financially secure than the other," he said.

But the main reason Interex is remaining independent concerns the long-term viability of the user group, said Beauchemin. If Interex joined HP, "we were going to be emasculated as a group," he said.

Beauchemin, who is CEO of Beaudeux Wireless & Storage Consulting in Spring, Texas, which specializes in wireless networking and storage management, said HP would have imposed conference restrictions. Those limits might have ended a user forum that gives customers the opportunity to ask hardball questions of HP.

Next year's HP World will be in San Francisco in August.

Encompass charts a different course

The Chicago-based user group Encompass, which is jointly sponsoring this year's HP World with Interex, is taking a different course from Interex and will support HP's New Orleans conference. At a meeting of its members at HP World, Encompass President Kristi Browder said the HP conference is "the best place for us to be" because of the high number of technical experts, such as systems administrators, it expects to attend.

Browder also said Encompass will be heavily involved in selecting the conference's content.

The user group still needs to work out details with HP on revenue sharing. But Browder said HP has told her the company plans to put conference revenue back into the user groups, "which we like," she said.

Browder works for General Dynamics Corp., a large government systems integrator in Falls Church, Va., as an advanced program manager in its security area.

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