I’m at Dell Technologies World this week and Michael Dell is the opening keynote. His talk generally sets a tone for the event and he has been known to be unusually forward looking. Most CEOs tend to be tactical by nature, largely because of the excessive focus by hedge fund managers who dominate boards and their need for short-term returns. The wonderful thing about a founder is that they tend to be far more strategic. Dell is also unique in that his firm remains private and avoids much of the excessive tactical focus that plagues his peers.
In short, in a world where the concept of “vision” has become nearly obsolete, Dell is long on vision and leaves tactical execution, as it should be, to his people. His opening video showcased AeroFarms, a new class of high-tech farm that executes not in the country but in the city, that uses warehousing rather than open fields, and is more in line with what you might see on a Mars expedition than on planet Earth. The result is massive improvements in quality, yields per acre, and turning faming from a legacy industry into a high-tech industry. This is a case of technology amplifying human creativity. It is a showcase of digital transformation.
The nature of this show is very different than before. In the past, this was either Dell World, EMC World or, most recently, Dell/EMC World. But the focus in those shows was more on the individual products and point solutions from either company. Dell Technologies World was redesigned to showcase the power of the integrated company, solutions that span industries rather than departments, and a vision that could change the world, not just change part of a company.
Dell and Data Is at the Center
Looking at 2020, Dell is anticipating the massive amount of data, hundreds of petabytes per day, that will be generated, not by people, but by the increasing Internet of Things (IoT). He spoke to how the pendulum has moved from mainframes to the cloud, which is both very similar and very different from where it began. It is the same in terms of centralization but different in terms of massive flexibility, vast improvements in ease of use, and data processing power.
Dell is anticipating an explosion of new computing concepts and ideas. Dell talked about market share growth across all his various businesses. Interweaving breadth, security, customer benefits, and portfolio elements, he told a story of how powerful Dell Technologies had become world wide, largely because of a near laser-like focus on customers and their changing needs.
One of the things that every experienced CEO learns very early is that the credibility of their presentation is tied to customer testimonials. Customers who invest in the technology are far more credible as advocates than executives who are just pitching products. Vodafone argued that Dell solutions like Virtustream were critical in their own digital transformation. Their transformation is tied to creating new business models and improving diversity and the implication is that they couldn’t make the changes they need to make without Dell.
Michael Dell highlighted Dell’s four transformation initiatives. They are:
Digital Transformation: Moving an organization into this century by creating a digital foundation so that any device can access any resource from any cloud.
IT Transformation: This is the changing nature of the organization missioned with transforming their firms into the new world.
Workforce Transformation: Dell has been unique in this aspect, particularly regarding diversity. After the keynote, I’ll be seeing Karen Quintos, Dell Chief Customer Officer, who will be showcasing Dell’s efforts to drive women into the industry. But workforce transformation is about updating the workforce to better work with the coming wave of technologies and products.
Security Transformation: With the growing state level of threats, Dell recognizes that there needs to be a massive effort to mitigate those threats.
Doing Well by Doing What Is Right
The world is divided between the doomsayers and a robo-apocalypse, and those who are focused on creating a better technology-driven world. Dell brought up his new CMO, Allison Dew. She is a long-time Dell marketing executive out of the PC side who was asked to step up to Dell’s critical need to showcase itself to this changing world. She spoke to their work with the Institute of the Future and the survey Dell did some time ago, which indicated much of IT had no clue what the future was going to bring and so were unable to properly guide their firms. She spoke about the Dell Technologies Institute to help the IT folks who are currently out of their depth and to better assure that the future wouldn’t be an apocalypse, robotic or otherwise. Dell feels that they will do well if they do right by the customers and businesses they serve and address this lack of direction by many IT organizations with directed resources designed to provide a better roadmap for them into the future.
Karen Quintos and Customer Awards
Michael Dell had Quintos come up on stage and announce award winners, which are companies that have used Dell technologies for success. This was fascinating to me because, well over a decade ago, I pitched a similar idea to Steve Ballmer at Microsoft and it didn’t end well. Ballmer took my suggestion but, at the time, Microsoft was more feared than loved and the firms weren’t properly prepped so when they were called out, they stood up looking like deer in the headlights and fearing ridicule. Dell is a very different company than Microsoft was back then, and the execution is far better. Each company was prepared to come forward, they were positively recognized by their peers, and each left the stage as an important advocate of both the solution and Dell’s caring for their needs. This was yet another reminder to me that execution is often more important than idea inception.
The firms highlighted, firms like Travelers Insurance, were aggressively moving on digital transformation and they could attest to the financial and operational benefits of this transformation. One of the most interesting firms was Volvo. This is the firm that arguably has the safest cars on the road and the one firm my wife avoids like the plague because she thinks their products are only for old people. But I’ve looked at some of their latest cars and their coming designs put the world on notice that they will shortly not only remain the safest but the most innovative of car companies. An impressive transformational effort.
AeroFarms won an award as well. I’m personally fascinated about this company because I grew up in farming and hated it with a passion. The pay, hours, bugs, heat, smells, and boring repetitive work repelled me. AeroFarms not only is far more efficient, it actually looks like it would be fun to work there as they have effectively removed virtually everything I hated about farming and turned it into a high-tech job.
Ford won an award, too. Wow, two car companies, I’m really having fun now (I’m kind of a car guy). Ford has been one of the most aggressively moving on the idea of a car as a service, moving to not only embrace the Uber model but to transform it. Recently, it made a gutsy announcement to massively cut back on the variety of cars it sold, focusing on just those models that most seemed to want to buy. It was a very Apple-like move and one, I think, Dell itself (and the PC industry in general) could learn from.
In closing, Quintos indicated Dell would be investing in several critical charities: Save the Children, Deaf Kids Code, Next Wave and Beat Childhood Cancer.
Technology Exists to Advance Human Progress
Jeffery Wright, one of the lead actors from the TV series Westworld (I’m a fan) came up on stage and spoke to his passion: the need to address PTSD issues with ex-military vets. The program he highlighted uses art to help rehabilitate these damaged heroes. One of the interesting technical applications to address this problem is the use of virtual reality (VR) in a project called Bravemind. This puts the patient back into the environment that created the PTSD but in a safe form, so their minds can be reprogrammed and they can better deal with the past event; the results have been a reported significant reduction in PTSD symptoms.
What I continue to think is fascinating about VR is that, while it was presented as a consumer technology, it has been far more successful in industrial uses, and this was a case in point. This application of the technology is changing lives for the better and showcases how technology like this can go beyond entertainment and create a better world.
Wrapping Up: Dell Works to Play Up Strengths
Dell Technologies is the new big player on the block. It is massive in size, reach and capability. It still has blind spots, like smartphones, that could be closed with future partners like BlackBerry, but otherwise it is one of the most impressive firms that has ever been created. The big aspect that I continue to be impressed with is how much the company is focused on the future and in doing things like Project Bravemind, and their focused efforts in areas like transportation and agriculture. I still wonder why more firms don’t go private or take Dell’s direction to go big, really big, or go home.
Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm. With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+