Not long ago, our company made its living making and selling computers. We were good at what we did. Our hardware helped make PCs mainstream in the 90s. We were the number one computer company at the turn of the century—selling desktops, laptops, and servers to consumers and companies big and small. We remain the no. 1 monitor manufacturer in the world.
We did all this by being faster and cheaper than the next guy—without sacrificing quality— thanks to a revolutionary “built to order,” global sourcing, and e-commerce approach.
But then smartphones happened. Mobile happened. People started bringing their own devices to work. Time to pivot.
If we were going to lead in the multi-device era, we would have to do more than just sell great hardware. We would need to contextualize our products, help make sense of them, better manage them, and become a respected IT advisor. And we’d need to sell virtual computers as well as physical ones, services as much as products, and do all this primarily for enterprise customers.
Five years later after a string of strategic acquisitions, lots of soul-searching, and becoming the world’s largest privately owned company last year, many say we’ve done just that.
“It’s a smart strategy,” technology analyst Tim Bajarin recently told my colleague. “Half of Dell’s enterprise business comes through physical PCs sales,” he explained, which allows us to upsell other services such as innovative management software and cost-effective virtual computers. “It all revolves around Dell’s enterprise ecosystem strategy which should help them continue on the path of growth.”
The transition hasn’t been easy, however.
“Several years ago, I was attending a Citrix tradeshow,” recalls Erica Hilgeman, a virtual desktop evangelist at Dell. “We were just starting our desktop virtualization business (before acquiring Wyse), and I thought to myself: ‘We’re not going to beat these guys.’”
Turns out, we didn’t need to. Rather than directly compete, we made a calculated decision to become an enabler of virtual desktops over time, supporting both Citrix and VMware installations, as well as Microsoft and Dell’s own improvements to the technology. We acquired Wyse, the inventor of thin clients and volume leader of them. And we did it in an open and inclusive way for a very specific reason.
“We don’t have a dog in the platform fight,” says Dan O’Farrell, senior product manager at Dell. “Since we support all major desktop solutions and thin client operating systems in addition to our own innovations, we don’t have to force the issue, putting us in the best position to objectively analyze and recommend the ideal environment.”
In other words, it’s no longer about competing ideologies such as Citrix versus VMware, VDI versus WSM or vWorkspace, or even physical versus virtual desktops, Hilgeman says. “It’s about helping customers transition to the multi-device era. It’s about solving use-case problems over recommending and sometimes shoehorning self-interest technologies.”
That includes taking a platform agnostic approach, pairing the best technology with ideal conditions, and providing the necessary management software to secure, empower, and manage it all, she says.
Obviously, we want buyers to choose our hardware, admin tools, and cloud know-how over the competition because we believe in it. But even in cases when a customer buys iPads over our Venue tablets, we can still improve the experience and manage it all. When armed with our Enterprise Mobility or Cloud Client Manager, we can secure, provision, and mobilize just about any multi-device environment.
Some might dub our willingness to accept such piecework ironic, given our affinity for using “end-to-end solutions” to describe our offering. But we’re okay proving our mettle one piece at a time.
Hilgeman clarifies why:
“When clients experience our products, they gain trust and buy more. That’s been the case for Dell in all verticals, including physical and virtual desktops, servers and networking, and our management software,” he said.
That patient confidence stems from three specific things: Perspective, innovation, and a sense of responsibility.
As for the first, “I realized a decade ago that the type of endpoint wasn’t going to mean much,” Hilgeman says. “Workers just need their stuff, regardless of platform or device. So long as we create a workspace where the user clicks on something and has no idea where it’s coming from, there’s no ‘there’ anymore—it just works.”
As for innovation, we’ve acquired more than a dozen strategic service companies, product portfolios, patents, and leadership talent over the last five years to make our end-to-end offering possible. And if user and critical reviews are any indication, we did it without sacrificing the quality of our important manufacturing business.
Lastly, O’Farrell explains the sense of responsibility we feel in supporting such an ambitiously open ecosystem. “We’re the only ones that stand behind the entire offering, without passing the buck to another vendor when something goes wrong,” he says.
If something goes wrong at the server level, we support it. If BYODs are fighting with the datacenter, we support it. If storage or synchronization gets buggy, we support it.
“Only Dell does that,” O’Farrell emphasizes. “Our end-to-end approach makes migration to stateless computing and the cloud much easier than before. It not only acknowledges the consumerization of IT and BYOD, it gives forwarding thinking IT teams the total computing tools required to empower workers, boost productivity, and satisfy customers.”
You see, in just a few short years, we’ve managed to modernize our deep understanding and rich history of personal computing to get with the times. Our deliberate strategy, continued growth, and confidence make us a serious enterprise competitor, if not the best endpoint expert in the room.
All we need to do now is execute. Wish us luck.