Test equipment, two steps removed

-September 19, 2013

Agilent Technologies announced today that it is dividing yet again. This time, it's splitting off its test-and-measurement business into a separate company that will get a new name, as yet unknown. You may recall that HP split off Agilent in 1999, ending years of speculation.

What does this mean for the test business? The original part of HP that Bill and Dave started will, by the end of 2014, be two steps away from its founders.

From an engineering perspective, I don’t think the name of the company makes a difference to you, provided the new company keeps developing the test equipment you need to do your job. Any faltering, in engineering or technical support, will be capitalized upon by competitors.

When HP split off Agilent in 1999, I spoke to numerous employees, all of who were excited at being removed from the staggering HP behemoth. Remember, HP was not far removed from the Carly Fiorina fiasco at that time. The employees saw it as a chance to start anew, with a company that would focus on measurements, something that HP had lost in becoming a consumer-electronics company. I suspect the same is happening again. The new company's management should be entirely focused on test and measurement. That should be a good thing for electronics design and test engineers worldwide. The new company is still large, at around $2.9 billion, but may truly be more agile this way than as Agilent.

Since 1999, a generation of engineers have grown up not knowing that HP was a test-and-measurement company. That had occurred within ten years, when I wrote in Agilent came from HP, really.

The split of Agilent's test business reminds me of a thread that took place LinkedIn's Test & Measurement Marketing group earlier this year. Someone speculated that Danaher, the parent company of Tektronix, Keithley, and Fluke, might acquire Agilent. Everyone, including me, chimed in to say that would never happen. Agilent was just too big. The measurement business is less than half of Agilent's total. Still, I think any takeover is unlikely and remember, the new company won’t be formed for at least a year. I hope it never happens, for that would eliminate the competition between the two largest measurement companies. The Securities and Exchange Commissions might not allow such a takeover, anyway. We need that competition to keep innovation moving and measurement improving.

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