For Dell, it all still starts with the PC

AUSTIN, TEX. – When Michael Dell founded Dell Computer in his dorm room at the University of Texas at Austin, just a ten minute drive from where thousands gathered this week for the annual Dell World conference, the “computer” in Dell Computer was very appropriate.

Over the years, Dell has evolved from a vendor that squeezed every drop of value from the supply chain to deliver affordable and customized desktops and laptops for consumers and later businesses, to a company that wants to play in and lead every segment from servers, storage and networking to security. As he addressed Dell World attendees though at the first conference since he took the company private, he made clear that, despite Dell’s end-to-end strategy, the PC remains essential to Dell’s strategy and success even today.

“Our goal is to combine together hardware, software and services into solutions that help benefit customers,” Dell said during his conference keynote. “And the PC continues to be important to our customers, and key to Dell’s strategy.”

In the commercial space, Dell noted that 2/3s of the vendor’s relationships started with a PC before moving deeper into the enterprise and other areas Dell has more recently moved into, such as private and hybrid cloud computing. “It’s a great way for us to acquire customers around the world that are just beginning their journey (as a business),” said Dell.

The strategy of the PC (or other endpoint devices, such as tablets) as the pointy end of the spear was evident in several announcements and conversations during Dell World. For example, a partnership with DropBox to bring secure cloud-based file sharing to businesses will soon include a pre-load on new Dell commercial devices. Dell also plans to use commercial pre-loads to seed adoption and sales of its new endpoint security offerings, where it hopes to compete (at least in the commercial space) with traditional vendors such as Symantec, McAfee and Kaspersky Lab.

Dell said PC sales remain robust for the company, and added the interesting new opportunities in the future will revolve around evolving endpoint form factors.

And the person responsible for thinking about endpoint form factors at Dell is Neil Hand, the vendor’s global vice-president of end user computing. Dell has been aggressive in experimenting with new form factors, such as a variety of ultrabooks, convertibles, and both Windows and Android tablets of different sizes. It even gave Windows RT a try before deciding the market just wasn’t there. In an interview with CDN at Dell World, Hand said he’s not seeing much cannibalization of Dell’s traditional PC business as they add newer form factors.


“A small amount is going to be crossover cannibalization, but most of it is complementary,” said Hand.

Some devices straddle the line, said Hand. Dell’s Venue 11 Pro is a Windows 8.1 tablet that could easily replace a laptop, said Hand, with the addition of a docking station and keyboard, so an executive only needs to carry one device.

“I think a lot of those we’ll sell to business customers,” said Hand. “If I have field productivity workers that I had to buy a laptop and tablet for, now I can just buy one. And it’s just one item to carry a charger for.”

On the other hand, he said Dell’s smaller tablets such as the 7” Venue 7, or the 8” Venue 8 or Venue 8 Pro, could never be a replacement for a PC.

“They can augment it though,” said Hand. “I have an 8” Windows tablet I do e-mail on, but it’s mostly to manage my inbox.”

It’s the non-traditional uses for new form factors that excite Dell. He sees lots of retailers looking to create a more interactive experience for customers by putting tablets in the store, whether in the aisle to help them find items or deals or at check-out as a point of sale device.

It’s also a good example of how Dell is using end-points to drive deeper commercial relationships. That retailer isn’t just going to buy a tablet from Dell or its partners; they’re going to need services to tie it all together, the backend infrastructure to support it and the security to safeguard both customer and business data – and Dell can play in each of those areas.

“We have a higher ability to focus and execute to business customers than anyone else,” said Hand.

Dell also needs to have a strong bring your own device play, said Hand. It continues to be a strong player in the consumer endpoint space, and had developed its own enterprise mobility management (EMM) so businesses can let employees bring those personal devices into the enterprise and keep both the personal and corporate data separate and secure.

“It’s an important part of our strategy. We have to bridge that divide,” said Hand. “We can provide both sides of it, and we think over time that allows to provide a “better on” strategy. If you’re using EMM on Dell devices it’s going to be better. We can deploy to any device. But we’ll enable it out of the box on Dell devices, with a “Built for Business” label on it when sold in the store.”

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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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