John Swainson has one of the more challenging jobs in the tech industry right now. As president of Dell's software division, he's charged with sorting through all the software Dell has acquired and organizing it into coherent offerings that can further its effort to become a more profitable, software- and services-driven company.
Swainson sat down with IDG News Service after a Dell event in San Francisco Wednesday, where the company announced some product packages for mobile device management. He talked about the challenges of selling hosted applications, the tough job of consolidating Quest's software catalog from 200 products down to about 40 and the state of innovation in enterprise software. Following is an edited transcript of the interview.
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IDG News Service: First, the elephant in the room. What impact has Michael Dell's battle to take the company private had on your efforts to build its software business?
John Swainson: None. Every indication I've had from Michael and the potential investors is that they're as interested in building a bigger, more diverse software business in the future as they ever were in the past, so it's full speed ahead.
IDG News Service: People credit Michael Dell with making some smart software acquisitions and having good technology, yet Dell's transformation isn't happening as quickly as people would like. Why is that?
Swainson: I think it's going about as fast as any transformation of any business I've ever seen. That doesn't mean every product people have talked about has been successful. The whole notion of the converged infrastructure for Dell has taken a little longer than we would have thought, we did a reset [on Dell's first virtualization products] and started some other initiatives that we talked about last fall. But if you step back and look at where Dell is today from where it was three years ago, there's a lot of progress.
IDG News Service: There's still a perception of Dell being a PC company. How much of an issue is that when you're trying to sell complex systems that include software and services?
Swainson: It's a perception you have to address in the marketplace. We've shipped and integrated servers and software and done outsourcing for some of the most complex companies in the world. A couple of weeks ago we announced a supercomputer with the Texas Advanced Computing Center and that's as big and complicated a system as anyone is doing in the world. Our challenge from a branding perspective is getting people to think of us more how we aspire to be and less how we were. Where it hurts you is when customers don't know you offer something so they don't think to ask, that's why you have to gain critical mass and tell your story in a visible way.