Michael Dell: We're a 'solutions' company

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In an exclusive interview, CEO Michael Dell talks about his company's new direction and its plans to serve a diverse midmarket

Few CEOs have witnessed more change from the same seat as Michael Dell. When he founded Dell in the 1980s, his Austin company was among the first to sell PCs by mail, often at a lower price and with better tech support than established competitors offered. The '90s saw Dell extend that lean and mean approach to become a pioneer in user-customized systems and just-in-time manufacturing. And in the 2000s, with the rise of Linux, Dell established itself as a leading supplier of hardware to the data center -- both x86 servers and enterprise storage systems.

Today, Michael Dell oversees a global corporation that, with the 2009 acquisition of Perot Systems, has become an "enterprise solutions" company targeting the midmarket. By that, Dell means prepackaged combinations of consulting services, hardware, and software -- to serve verticals like healthcare or to address horizontal needs like enterprise-class security. The strategy appears to be working: When Dell announced its FY11 results in February, it reported the largest revenue increase in the company's history.

As part of the IDG Enterprise CEO Interview Series, Chief Content Officer John Gallant -- along with InfoWorld Editor in Chief Eric Knorr and InfoWorld Executive Editor Doug Dineley -- sat down for a 45-minute interview with Michael Dell. A key part of the discussion focused on Dell's aggressive plans to grow his portfolio of solutions by acquiring more intellectual property and what that means for customers and longtime partners. Along the way, Dell was willing to speculate about new devices that blur the line between notebook and tablet and even what the computer industry might have looked like had his venture never existed. We began by asking him to elaborate on his company's decision to put solutions, rather than hardware, first.

John Gallant: Dell says it has become an enterprise solutions provider. That's a big shift from being a box seller and a fast adopter of new technology. Why is Dell making this change and what are you trying to accomplish?

Michael Dell: Throughout the latter part of the '90s and early 2000s, we started creating more and more powerful enterprise products, and as we sold those products into the data center, it became clear to us that customers wanted more than products. We started to build a bigger business services capability and to verticalize the business. It was most prevalent in the public sector -- because it was a business of verticals, with education and health care and the defense and civilian aspects of the federal government. As we were doing that, it became clear we needed to go faster.

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