Dell EMC World 2016 – One Transformation Concludes, Another Begins

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  October 26, 2016

“Transformation” is a loaded term in the IT industry. That’s partly due to its historical context and impact. Digital technologies have, in examples too numerous to count, essentially changed – transformed – the ways that people work, play and live.

But constant, conventional repetition has also transformed “transformation” into a cliché. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Clichés are, after all, shorthand for commonly held concepts and beliefs. The danger is that regular, let alone extreme overuse can rob terms of the weight or value that they possess.

I raise these points because of the central position that “digital transformation” occupied the spotlight at last week’s Dell EMC World 2016 customer and partner conference in Austin, Texas – the first such event that the company has hosted since Dell’s $67B acquisition of EMC was completed. On the plus side, the conference found Dell EMC redefining and reinvigorating the concept of “digital transformation” for itself, as well as its customers and partners.

Transformation – Act or fact?

How did Dell EMC go about accomplishing this? By emphasizing the point that a transformation or metamorphosis can be pursued rather than experienced or endured.

The Oxford English Dictionary (second edition) defines the term as: “The action of transformation or fact of being transformed.” That is, transformation can describe and define both action and conclusion. A reasonable interpretation of this was on display at Dell EMC World – that transformation can and should be proactively embraced internally rather than passively experienced as a result of external circumstances.

Dell EMC – Transforming by example

You could say that the company used itself as the prime example of this dynamic. By successfully pursuing and completing the largest and most complex corporate acquisition in the history of the IT industry, chairman and CEO Michael Dell fundamentally transformed his company and thus helped to ensure that Dell EMC and its customers and partners will survive and prosper.

This was amply illustrated by the enhanced market positions in data center solutions that Dell EMC has achieved by dint of the acquisition:

  • #1 Enterprise storage systems worldwide (WW)
  • #1 Server units WW
  • #1 Public and private cloud infrastructure WW
  • #1 Integrated systems WW
  • #1 Purpose-built backup appliances WW
  • #1 All-flash arrays WW

Also notable is Dell EMC’s success in PC and notebook sales which are growing at a faster pace than competitors, and the company’s substantial leadership in x86-based server virtualization via its ownership position in VMware.

The company also announced several new or substantially improved solutions during the conference, including:

  1. A new Analytics Insight Module offering that supports big data analytics and cloud-native application development
  2. A new all Flash version of its market-leading Isilon scale-out NAS platform
  3. A new endpoint data security and management portfolio that integrates technologies from Dell, Mozy by Dell, RSA and VMware AirWatch
  4. Expansion of its VxRail Appliances and VxRack System 1000 hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) solutions via integration with PowerEdge servers
  5. Updates to Dell EMC Elastic Cloud Storage (ECS) with PowerEdge servers that can result in as much as 60% better TCO than public cloud storage

In other words, Dell EMC and its leadership aren’t simply patting themselves on the back and resting on their calcified laurels. Instead, they are using the momentum resulting from the deal’s success to deliver new strategic products, solutions, services and benefits.

In essence, proactive transformation begets opportunities for new transformational efforts and plans.

Thrive or survive – The digital threat landscape

The value and importance of digital transformation for customers was the theme that company executives highlighted again and again during Dell EMC World, underscoring critical strategic and tactical issues.

For example, Michael Dell discussed the technological challenges and business opportunities represented by the Internet of Everything, saying that it “represents the next Industrial Revolution” and that emerging technologies, including virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR), “Will unleash a torrent of innovation and progress, and the ability to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. It’s the sunrise of a new era. The digital dawn.”

Those are substantial strategic imperatives but it is also a long way from here to there, and most organizations lack the IT skills and assets necessary to successfully pursue and achieve the transition. That’s where, in Michael Dell’s view, Dell EMC comes in to act as a trusted current and next generation technology consultant, enabler and provider.

But those longer view opportunities are overshadowed by near-term problems and challenges for many customers, including fears of being overtaken and eclipsed by digital startups, like Uber, Airbnb and Tesla that are playing by essentially new, often incomprehensible business rules.

As David Goulden, president of Dell EMC’s Infrastructure Solutions Group noted, “To truly realize their digital future, we believe the vast majority of organizations will transform their IT (practices) through a hybrid cloud strategy. The first ‘no regrets’ step is to modernize their data center through the most advanced converged infrastructure, servers, storage, data protection, and cybersecurity technologies to name a few.”

Dell EMC summed up the choice for IT-challenged organizations in a stark but pithy phrase: “Go big or go home.” The company obviously hopes its customers will actively pursue the former goal, but it also can and will provide valuable guidance for those following a slower or more cautious path.

The customer-centric equation

One of the more interesting encounters I had at Dell EMC World was a meeting with Karen Quintos, formerly Dell’s SVP and Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) and now Dell’s EVP and Chief Customer Officer (CCO). The fact is that CCO is an unusual position among IT vendors but it, and Quintos, will play a critical role in the new company’s integration and success.

That’s due in large part to the nature of the deal itself. As I’ve written in the past, a core element of Dell’s purchase of EMC was the minimal overlap between the two companies’ respective solutions, services and customer constituencies. Thus, it seems unlikely that Dell EMC will experience the tectonic dislocations and arterial bloodletting so common in large scale corporate acquisitions, including HP’s purchase of Compaq.

At the same time, the company needs to be abundantly clear and utterly transparent in communicating with often new and sometimes unfamiliar clients and partners. Dell’s history of customer-centric outreach, along with the exceptional M&A process management it has evolved since Michael Dell’s return to the CEO chair in 2005 should go a long way to addressing this. However, that an executive as deeply knowledgeable and experienced as Quintos will oversee the customer effort shows how seriously Dell takes the issue.

During our discussion, Quintos noted that customer-centricity has been baked into the integration from the first, with a strong focus on balancing the talent in solutions and service teams, and placing the best people in positions of responsibility and authority. That spirit of inclusion and diversity, a core Dell EMC value, extends to all its customer interactions from initial sales calls to long term ProSupport engagements. The fact that this approach expands an existing, long successful client engagement methodology suggest that under Quintos customer satisfaction and loyalty will be and remain paramount at Dell EMC.

Final analysis

Despite the potential danger of descending into cliché, the concept of digital transformation proved to be alive and well at Dell EMC World 2016. It is clearly apparent in the ways that the company is and plans to continue conducting its business. At the same time, Dell EMC is offering its own experience as an example and model for how its customers and partners can modernize and transform their own businesses.

That will not be an easy road to travel or trivial goal to pursue. The changes and challenges implicit in transformational digital technologies, including advanced analytics, VR/AR and the Internet of Everything are often difficult for businesses to grasp, let alone successfully implement and manage. However, with a future-facing vendor like Dell EMC as their ally, organizations should be able to find their way forward and “go big” instead of going home.

© 2016 Pund-IT, Inc. All rights reserved.