Image: GettyImages/John Coletti

HPE is aiming to have the best of both worlds when the company opens its new Houston headquarters: A presence in Silicon Valley and an affordable place for employees to live and work.

Antonio Neri, president and chief executive of Hewlett Packard Enterprise, spoke at the Greater Houston Partnership’s Inaugural State of Technology event on Monday. Neri discussed the company’s digital transformation work as well as his decision to move HPE headquarters to Houston from Silicon Valley. Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership, talked with Neri at the event.

The two business leaders talked about digital transformation, the COVID-19 pandemic and social equity.

Moving to Houston

The Houston office will be the second-largest of HPE’s locations after the India HQ with 11,000 employees. Neri said adding the Houston office will give HPE the best of both worlds: A long-term thought leadership location in Silicon Valley and a second location that is more affordable for employees while still providing the company with plenty of experienced employees.

“For me, it was all about getting access to diverse talent and then developing it in the long term,” he said.

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Neri lived in Houston for several years and said he considers the city to be his home. He was born in Argentina and has been in the U.S. for more than 20 years. He started at HP in 1995 working in the call center.

Houston has built up its entrepreneurial sector over the last few years by attracting more venture capital and building tech density, Harvey said. He listed The Ion, Greentown Labs, the Houston Spaceport and the TMC Innovation Institute as examples of startup centers that will support innovation in the city.

“We’ve been attracting interest from major tech companies as well with Microsoft, Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud expanding in the market recently,” he said.

Ongoing digital transformation

In the next wave of digital transformation, Neri said he expects businesses to be digitally native in all operations.

He said customers are still rethinking everything at this point in both the pandemic and the transformation: Where employees will be based, what products are needed and how to manage operations.

“At the core of all of this transformation is applications and data,” he said. “And data comes from the edge, where we live and work.”

He said the challenge will be to collect and analyze data from all locations where people live and work from hospitals to oil rigs.

“The question is how do we extract insights from the data faster than before because the future belongs to the fast,” he said.

Harvey mentioned HPE’s role in supporting the development of the COVID-19 vaccines and Neri credited these contributions as a reason the shots were developed so quickly. The company donated hardware, software and expertise to the effort.

“The data that was crunched to get faster answers was done on HP systems,” Neri said. “We could deliver outcomes from the data in a way we haven’t done before.”

Harvey said that this new capability could be a reason to trust the vaccines when people wonder how the work could have been completed so quickly.

“We have tech today we simply didn’t have before and now we can crunch this data in minutes, instead of weeks,” Neri said.

Prioritizing social equity

Neri and Harvey also talked about diversity, equity and inclusion. Neri said that the move to online schooling highlighted the digital divide in the U.S. as many students couldn’t do online work because they didn’t have an internet connection at home.

“As we think about this digital transformation, we have to build the environmental, social and governance strategy into the transformation,” he said.

Neri said that the private and public sectors have to work together to put the right incentives and policies in place to make sure no group or community gets left behind.

“I consider connectivity as essential as water and electricity, everyone has to have access to it,” he said.

Neri said he sees diversity and inclusion becoming more important to shareholders.

“It’s becoming top of mind for shareholders and they want to invest in companies that care deeply about those issues and now they are starting to vote with their dollars,” he said.