Dell customers say jury still out on company going private

AUSTIN, TEX. – This year’s Dell World conference is the first since Michael Dell and Silver Lake Partners won their battle to take the company private, and what Dell’s departure from the world of private companies means for the vendor is a hot topic in the conference centre corridors.

Company founder Michael Dell gained approval in September from company shareholders for a $25 billion transaction with investment firm Silver Lake Partners to take the company private for $13.75 per share. The deal finally sailed through after activist shareholder Carl Ichan withdrew his opposition, having succeeded in prodding Dell and Silver Lake to sweeten their offer. Dell said that, as a private company not facing the quarterly scrutiny of investors looking for a short-term return, the company will be better able to focus on the long-term and completing its transition from a PC vendor to an integrated supplier of end-to-end technology solutions, from the end point to the data centre.

Speaking with Dell customers the day before the conference formally kicks off, most were generally positive on the move, although all agreed time will tell the tale of how well it works out for Dell, its customers and partners.

Some customers want to see a Dell more focused on their business specifically, such as David Crain, assistant provost and CIO of Southern Illinois University.

“I want to see more focus on higher education from Dell,” said Crain, adding that as to the success of Dell going private, “the jury is still out.”

The ability to focus is the biggest positive citied by Christian Morin, director of IT and the Stratocast product group for Montreal-based Genetec.

“Going private will being back more focus, and that’s a great thing for Dell,” said Morin. “We’re a private company, and that allows us to focus more on the long term than the short term. It will really help the company to regroup and focus and think about customers instead of just next quarter’s numbers.”

The key though is going to be leadership said Jules Cardinal, CIO of MyChemist, an online pharmacy in Australia.

“The flexibility going private affords is a lot, as long as you’ve got good leadership and you’re focused on the same goals,” said Cardinal. “Being private is good and bad. It really is dependent on what sort of leadership is there. It does matter who’s in charge.”

Although most customers said the year of uncertainty that has surrounded Dell going private hasn’t impacted their relationship with the vendor, for photo sharing web site Shutterfly – a public company itself – it has had to put alternative plans in place in case Dell exits markets where they rely on them.

“We do a lot of planning, and we’d be remiss if we didn’t protect our company. There’s a lot to be seen in how Dell handles this,” said Jim Liszewski, vice-president and general manager for Shutterfly. “The fight is over and they’ve gone private; now the question is what does Dell do to take it to the next level? The proof is still out there.”

And Dell will be looking to offer that direction at Dell World, which officially kicks off Wednesday morning and continues through Friday.

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
A veteran technology and business journalist, Jeff Jedras began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the booming (and later busting) Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal, as well as everything from municipal politics to real estate. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada. He would go on to cover the channel as an assistant editor with CDN. His writing has appeared in the Vancouver Sun, the Ottawa Citizen and a wide range of industry trade publications.

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