Business Ethics and HP’s Handling of Legacy Palm Pre Users

My friend Eric Mack has a very good summary of ethics in Knowledge Management which I believe applies to the current problem Hewlett Packard has when they decided not to tell their legacy users that they would not get an upgrade to webOS 2.x OTA.

Here's how I currently define the argument for Ethics in KM

  1. Knowledge Management is about sharing of knowledge, information, and experiences - an exchange of information and ideas. (We often call this learning.)

  2. This exchange cannot occur without effective communication.

  3. For communication to be truly effective, transparency must exist. Transparent communication is built on trust.

  4. Any unethical behavior undermines trust which ultimately impairs communication which leads to the loss of sharing and the loss (or distortion) of information and knowledge.

The bottom line is that ethics is important to KM because of trust.

The problem is that Hewlett Packard was not transparent in their communication with their base users of webOS devices which comes across as untrustworthy. They announced three new products that are not ready to ship despite HP CEO Leo Apotheker having previously stated the following in an interview.

“HP will stop making announcements for stuff it doesn’t have. When HP makes announcements, it will be getting ready to ship.”

HP CEO: New Products Will Ship a Few Weeks After Feb 9 Announcement

They gave a vague "sometime in summer" ship date. Palm webOS products have missed many milestones in the past. See Flash by the end of 2009, webOS 2.x in fall of 2010 and then in winter of 2011. If you look at the failures in their demonstrations (unable to reply to an email for instance) you can tell that this is still a beta product.

This is not how to treat your customer base. They now say that year-old equipment is not capable of running the new OS. This is despite having previously previewed the new OS on equipment that was first sold in June 2009. As previous coworker of mine used to say "it doesn't pass the smell test."

I believe that HP should produce an OTA upgrade as a stopgap measure to keep their loyal user base . This will allow developers to upgrade their products for the new OS with the knowledge that there are still potential users to purchase their product and potentially keep many of their loyal user base using their old phones until HP is able to ship their new phones and Touchpad tablet device. To prevent user apprehension they should also state what mobile phone carriers they are negotiating with to carry their new devices. If these two things are not done I believe they will lose many of their loyal users.

What do you think?