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BOSTON—Technology is not about the next best thing; it’s about everything.

That’s the keynote message Hewlett-Packard Co. Chairman and CEO Carly Fiorina delivered this morning here at Forrester Research Inc.’s Executive Strategy Forum.

“I think the technology era of the next best thing, technology of the silver bullet, maybe was never here, but it’s certainly gone now,” Fiorina said.

“It’s almost a truism to say technology is all about change and change is all about technology,” she said.

The 1980s was a period when technology was a back-room responsibility, she said. The 1990s was an era when “people threw technology at problems as if it were a silver bullet.” The current decade is about integrating technology into everything. The CIO now has to be a business strategist and not just the “weird technology guy” in the office, she said.

Fiorina listed what she considers to be three fundamental truths about technology today:

  • “Every process that is physical and analog will become digital and mobile and virtual.” (She used digital photography and camera phones as an example, but she could have just as well pointed out the audience members who were taking notes on iPaq handhelds.)
  • “As technology pervades—some might say invades—our businesses and our lives, manageability and adaptability become key.”
  • “It is all about a heterogeneous, connected world.”

    To that end Fiorina, discussed the idea of the adaptive enterprise, which is an idea Palo Alto, Calif.-based HP has been selling to business customers—the idea of a state in which technology enables anything a business wants to do. It starts with assessing how adaptive is your enterprise,” she said.

    Want to learn more on the adaptive enterprise? Check out this CIO Insight article: “How to Create and Lead an Adaptive Organization” here.

    This boils down to simplifying and modularizing and integrating the organization, she said, noting she had made a point of addressing both issues when she joined the company in July 1999. For example, when she got to HP, the company had 1,600 unique Web sites for employee training alone, she said, and that wasn’t simple.

    In a question-and-answer session, Fiorina addressed issues ranging from the general state of the industry to HP’s promise as a company that caters to enterprise customers.]

    On the technology recession: “One, you had a very particular event around Y2K, which exaggerated people’s tendencies to throw technology at problems,” she said “Second, you had a set of industries that were created through false economics—a whole set of companies who bought technology but didn’t survive. A third reason is the fear that many companies had that unless they spent a lot of money on technology, somehow they were falling behind. All of this created a huge boom but then people woke up and said, ‘Technology has to get real.’ Every technology decision has to be justifiable and understandable at all levels.”

    Some audience members voiced concern about HP’s merger with Compaq Computer Corp. Although services were a big reason the companies merged, the merger resulted in employee layoffs and, for some customers in the audience, a decrease in the quality of customer service.

    Fiorina took a defensive tone about the issue. “It is not consistent with the vast amount of data we get from our customers,” she said. “Certainly we have reduced positions as we brought these two companies together, but in most cases we have reduced positions in areas where we had redundancies.” But she also asked that the concerned audience members pass on their phone numbers.

    While HP partners with a number of VARs and services companies, the company has no immediate plans to acquire a large services company.

    “I have been asked many times: Will I buy an EDS? Will I buy a large consulting company? I have been given the chance to do both, and I have walked away every time.”