New dawn: Dell claims to be world’s largest start-up

The new direction being taken by the tech giant makes it feel like a start-up, according to its founder

Michael Dell giving the opening keynote address during the Dell World IT Conference 2013. photograph: justin sullivan/getty images

Michael Dell giving the opening keynote address during the Dell World IT Conference 2013. photograph: justin sullivan/getty images

 

Founded in 1984, Dell can hardly describe itself as a start-up. But after taking the company private, Michael Dell says that is exactly what the tech giant feels like these days. Speaking at the company’s annual Dell World exhibition in Austin, Texas, last week, the Dell founder and chief executive was upbeat about the future.

“I feel like I’m part of the world’s largest start-up,” he said, delivering his keynote address. “We’re unleashing the entrepreneurial spirit and creativity that have always been the hallmarks of Dell.”

Michael Dell has reason to be positive about the future. Not only has he taken the company private, but he fought off a rival bid from investor Carl Icahn to do so. Sales are up and, according to the company, it is growing faster than the industry.

“This past year has been a really big year for Dell,” he said, citing the company’s strategic progress and new products and capabilities it had introduced.

“You might also have noticed that we’re a private company once again. We’re really excited about this. We have the financial strength and the capital structure and the scale to lead our industry. And now as a private company we have the freedom to make the bold moves that are necessary, investing in emerging markets, and in PCs and tablets, software and solutions and the data centre,” he said.

“This privatisation has really created a renewed sense of excitement about Dell.”

Dell has big plans for the future. The company has already been moving itself into the position of end-to-end supplier for its customers, shaking off the image of a purely computer company and branching out into software and services.

“We’re disrupting and democratising software, services and solutions the way we did PCs and servers,” Michael Dell said.

The privatisation leaves Dell free to invest heavily in pursuing this strategy, away from the pressure of quarterly release figures that affect share prices and cause shareholder discontent.


Innovation
As part of that, the company announced the establishment of a research division and a $300 million (€218 million) fund to focus on early to growth companies in core technology areas. This will help the company to keep the pace of innovation that is needed to react to changes in the market, and it is a strategy that has already worked to a certain extent with the storage sector.

True to tech conference form, Dell had a few big names up its sleeve at Dell World. Elon Musk, head of Tesla and SpaceX, made an appearance, adding a bit of tech rockstar glamour to the event. The 6,000 attendees witnessed Musk being driven to the stage in one of his Tesla cars to appear alongside Michael Dell and writer David Kirkpatrick.

Musk discussed how important innovation was, and how people should be encouraged to take chances for success. “I think people self-limit more than they realise,” he said. “People should just try it. It takes a lot of mental exertion to innovate, and I think it’s helpful to learn about different industries and cross-pollinate. People very often get siloed in one industry.”

It is something Musk has taken on board himself, bringing lessons learned at Tesla and SpaceX to the respective companies.

Dell World was not only about showcasing the future for the company, but also gauging customer reaction. To underscore that, Michael Dell took to the show floor to meet attendees before making the opening keynote speech for the event.

“We see this as a conversation,” he said, pushing home the message that the new, private Dell was all about the customer.

The rest of the conference was as you would expect. Dell was keen to whip up excitement for its products and its strategy, revealing a few new partners and expanded deals with existing ones.

Social media, cloud, big data, security and mobility were top of the list of priorities for the firm – the technologies that are reshaping the tech world.

“They’re the foundation of the modern infrastructure, the highways, the bridges the telephone lines and airports of the 21st century, connecting and networking our world,” Michael Dell said, promising that Dell would make the technology behind these forces more accessible, affordable and easier to use and own.


Social media
One project that Dell is looking at is how social media can be used to help companies provide better customer service, identifying problems before they become widespread based on social media chatter.

The company has also branched out in enterprise mobility solutions, allowing firms to take advantage of the “bring your own device” trend that has taken hold in the business world. The solution can be used on PCs, tablets or smartphones, allowing access to certain information within a “container” on the device. This ensures that data is kept separate from private information held on the device, and can be deleted if the device is lost or stolen.

Dell was keen to show it was serious in creating partnerships with companies that would benefit its customers in new ways. A link-up with cloud storage company Dropbox will see the software added to Dell’s tablets. The company has also signed up with Accenture to jointly develop solutions to improve enterprise efficiency, increase security and deliver better business outcomes for clients.

A separate agreement with Red Hat will see the company join forces with Dell to build enterprise-grade, private cloud solutions based on OpenStack, enabling customers to deploy scalable cloud computing solutions. Microsoft’s Windows Azure is also joining Dell’s cloud partner programme.

With Dell keen to power ahead with its plans to expand its capabilities, there are undoubtedly interesting times ahead for both the business and the industry.

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