Pund-IT Spotlight: A Conversation with Dell CIO Paul J. Walsh

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  December 3, 2014

The role of chief information officers (CIOs) has evolved fundamentally during the past decade. In part, that’s due to changes in business computing, as traditional enterprise scale-up systems have been bolstered or entirely replaced with scale-out commodity solutions. But other, more generational shifts are also significantly disrupting companies and their customers’ and partners’ organizations, thus widening the issues that concern CIOs.

As a result, CIOs are collaborating with increasingly sophisticated, often vocal employees and groups who want to make technology work on their own terms, whether it be in using their own mobile devices or engaging with resources like public cloud providers that are often well-outside the purview of traditional IT. All things considered equally, the most effective CIOs are those who can successfully balance the needs of traditional constituencies with the desire for new innovations, and develop best practices that are positive for the entire organization.

Dell found those qualities in Paul J. Walsh who it appointed as its new CIO in September 2014. Walsh has deep experience in a variety of IT fields, including software development, forecasting, IT operations, and budget planning. Prior to joining Dell in 2013 as VP of Commerce Services, he was VP and GM of the Online Business Unit at Sears Holdings Corporation. Walsh also worked at Amazon where he helped define and deliver its e-commerce platform, was director of Product Management and Development at Quest Software and spent eight years at Microsoft in positions, including platform strategy, product planning and enterprise management.

During the recent Dell World conference in Austin, Texas, I had a chance to sit down with Walsh to discuss his new role as CIO, his priorities for Dell and how he believes the company stands to benefit from both traditional and new technology developments.

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Pund-IT: In prepping for this meeting, I saw that your background is primarily in digital commerce, with Sears Holdings and Amazon, and then in your work with Dell, beginning with the Dell Commerce organization. How has that history helped prepare you for the CIO role?

Walsh: Dell is in the midst of a digital transformation. The difference between what we’re doing from a commerce perspective and what we’re doing in traditional IT is less and less. This digital transformation is happening across all parts of our organization. Our teams are asking how we can enhance the use of our data to have better insights in order to serve our customers. We’ve been doing that for quite a while on the commerce side. We really understand how to serve up the best, most contextually relevant information to our customers. Now, think about what can happen if you take that process internal, and bring the same level of simplicity to our internal customers – in other words, our employees. Think about the enhancement to productivity. We treat our internal employees as if they were external customers and get a lot of insights from our “Day in the Life” studies.

Pund-IT: That’s an interesting approach.

Walsh: I believe so. What we’re aiming to achieve is to really transform this global iconic brand from the inside out.

Pund-IT: How do you do that?

Walsh: By enabling simplification – simplifying our processes and simplifying the applications that we put out there. Let’s simplify the tools we provide to employees and really ensure that we give them what they need to make work very easy.

Pund-IT: So there’s a commonality between managing relationships with both customers and employees?

Walsh: Just think about a customer coming to a website to find a Dell XPS laptop. Well, you want to enable them to discover the product, to learn about it, to transact or buy it, and maybe even get support. Now think about a salesperson internally trying to serve the customer externally. They need to be able to find information quickly, to present that information to their external customer, and to enable that customer to complete a transaction. That’s what the customer wants to do. Well, we’re really looking at transforming Dell by integrated simplification, by being much more agile in our approach.

Pund-IT: Are there any precedents for what Dell is hoping to achieve?

Walsh: Think about the role of IT. Historically that has been focused around building big monolithic requirements and big monolithic tool sets and then having big monolithic rollouts. Well, what if we change that and provide continuous value achieved by continuous input? So, you want to be continuously working with the business to really understand what they’re looking to do and then roll out your response. Enabling that continuous input will provide us with the means to perform continuous delivery. With continuous delivery, we actually get continuous feedback that re-informs the system.

Pund-IT: That’s the dynamic. What are the tools you’re using?

Walsh:  We’re actually working closely with the business units to build the right tool sets that they actually need. As CIO, I see both digital commerce and internal IT as being very, very similar in our approach. I think that we can add more value to the business that way.

Pund-IT: It seems to me that technology, or the technology behind products, is becoming increasingly transparent.   So it sounds like your priority as a CIO is to embrace that reality and to take the pain out of the technological process, or out of processes that are related to technology.

Walsh: It’s all about enabling employees trying to achieve their business goals. If you look at how CIO’s IT organizations across the industry have traditionally worked, in many areas you’ll hear that the IT organization is an impediment to where the business wants to go. My view is that we have to move from left to right. You have to move from being an impediment to being an enabler, and you have to move from being an enabler to being a partner. Then ultimately where you want to get to is moving from being a partner to being a part of the business.

Pund-IT: So it isn’t an adjunct but fully integrated with the business?

Walsh: We’re working hand in hand with the business. We understand their strategic goals and where they want to be in five years. And we’ve got to imagine and enable how we can get them there in two years. If you think about it that way, it’s really about ensuring that we’re delivering true value quickly.

Pund-IT: How does that work in terms of other organizations within Dell?

Walsh: We work closely with our CMO organization, led by Karen Quintos, to build a marketing analytical workbench that captures insights about our customers and gives us a 360-degree-view of what the customer’s doing. It gives us a better understanding and a better ability to actually answer the customer needs. Now just think about doing that for the internal customer as well, whether it be someone in the manufacturing floor, the sales department or marketing.

Pund-IT: So the goal is better leveraging IT to gain greater efficiency?

Walsh: Part of our development is understanding their insights, what they’re actually looking for, how they actually are trying to perform their role, and then helping them get ahead of it. It’s also a matter of making sure that we have the tools and systems that are capable to actually move forward. It’s keeping that always-on resilience because you need that, but moving at the speed of the Internet. The question is: How do we take that internally, how do we do it better, how do we do it faster for less cost?

Pund-IT: Let’s change tracks slightly. In your previous work as VP of Dell Commerce Services, you were responsible for developing and managing the Dell Commerce Platform and the dell.com and Digital Experience. You led Dell’s decision to accept bitcoin. I’m curious what the customer response has been to that and if you’ve noticed any particular trends or anomalies in bitcoin use since the announcement.

Walsh: We’re always trying to start with the customer and work our way back. We talk to our customers a lot. There was a lot of feedback about new capabilities that they’re looking for, including new payment types and methods, and one that kept coming up was around bitcoin and digital currency. So once we made the decision that we wanted to implement that based on what our customers are looking at and where the market is going, we began supporting bitcoin fourteen days later. That’s the transformation of agility into speed that we’re trying to deliver – and now that we’re a private company, we can make and execute quick decisions to better our customers’ experience.  On the first day of announcing that we would be accepting bitcoin on dell.com, we saw our first transaction, which happened to be a laptop.

Pund-IT: Are more consumers or businesses using it?

Walsh: A lot of people were thinking, hey, this is going to be a consumer-only implementation. People are just going to buy mice, keyboards and lower price point PCs. Well, we actually have seen that people are buying Latitudes and the accessories around it with bitcoin. They’re buying bigger things, too. In fact, our largest transaction was north of $50,000 for a highly configured PowerEdge system. Now, that to me is not just a consumer buying. That’s really getting up into the small and mid-market.

Pund-IT: Where do you see bitcoin as part of the continuum at Dell?

Walsh: Dell has had a history of really being on the leading edge in digital innovation. We saw that way back when we were making PCs to order. We see that now as we become more of a sophisticated integrated global solution provider; we are really thinking about the needs of our customers worldwide.  Bitcoin is just another example of that. Since we implemented it in July, it’s done extremely well. Transactions are on the rise, so we’re excited about it.

Pund-IT: You used the phrase “speed of the Internet.” What do you mean by that in terms of internal IT?

Walsh:  Dell.com is a product that provides value by allowing you to find information quickly, transact business or find support. That should be the case internally, as well. When we think about internal customers, opening a trouble ticket can be a pain for a lot of employees. They have to figure it out, stumble through it. Well, we’ve put something onto our desktops we call it the IT Concierge that’s designed to help the internal customer find what they’re looking for, whether it be opening up a trouble ticket or connecting to a new printer or network. Moving forward, we are looking at how to start capturing data from this internal social media, just like we would from external sources. So we use things such as salesforce.com Chatter, and that allows our internal customers to basically ask questions or suggest fixes to problem areas. That, in turn, gives us a list of things that we should go out and solve for the larger population, but also allows us to respond quickly to individuals. Just like if an external customer on the website has a problem, we want to respond quickly to them.

Pund-IT: It’s a matter of establishing and then sustaining individual relationships with customers.

Walsh: Much more personalized relationships.

Pund-IT: And then creating what you might call a reliably sustainable uniformity of experience.

Walsh: That’s right.

Pund-IT: The role of the CIO seems to be changing. Digital innovation seems to me to be central to that change or that shift in responsibility or the type of responsibility that CIO’s have. Do you think that that’s the case? And how do you get on the right side of innovation as a CIO?

Walsh: Yes, I believe that’s the case, and I think I’m actually living in that right now. Look, data is really going to drive what we’re doing. We need to be able to glean data from our internal and external customers to better satisfy them. That means moving from monolithic requirements to much more agile delivery models and ensuring that we can continuously deliver value and maintain our standards. We have to ensure that we deliver information securely, but we also have to ensure that we’re moving at a much faster pace. We have to not just keep up with the business and the needs of the business but get ahead of it. To do that, we need to understand where customers want to be and then get ahead of that to ensure that we’re there waiting for them.

Pund-IT: Sounds like predictive analytics are critically important.

Walsh: Absolutely. And that really helps us understand the requirements of our customers.

Pund-IT: How are your efforts intersecting other Dell executives?

Walsh: We’re working across the board, whether it’s with the CMO or whether it’s with the Chief Commercial Officer. The example I gave earlier about the marketing analytical workbench is just one initiative. We’re now turning that inside, as well, so we can build applications that provide the same value and capabilities regardless of where the customer is.

Pund-IT: You’re turning the window into a mirror.

Walsh: Exactly. And we’re doing it all the time. In fact, when we build capabilities for our sales teams and they want to find out about the latest information on a particular product, we enable them to use the same search, the same navigation system, the same browser system that you would externally on dell.com.

Pund-IT:  Make it once and use it many times.

Walsh: Yes. We’re getting out of building things in silos and we’re looking at the customer experience end to end to ensure we deliver the right capabilities end to end.

Pund-IT: How do you individualize that?

Walsh: What it’s really tied to is your identity. So when you log in with your identity, I’m able to understand that you’re a salesperson who works in a certain segment. I’m able then to build the experience that you need and provide the tools that you need to find information about your customers, go from a quote to an order and understand if your customers had some support issues. All of that is in a dashboard that’s built around you rather than you having to manage dozens of sticky notes or copy information from one application to another. You now have a supported, end-to-end experience. And that in itself is the same thing that we would be doing if you logged in as an external customer.

Pund-IT: You’re fairly new to the CIO’s office, but I’m curious about how you think your experience might be different if Dell was still a publicly owned.

Walsh: Being private enables us to make decisions faster and respond quickly to the needs of our customers. By being more flexible and entrepreneurial, we can drive the innovations that will help our customers achieve their goals. You know, even though I’ve just been CIO since September, I’ve been looking across the whole organization, and the first thing I ask is: Why would we be doing this, or why had we done it that way? Then I ask: What will it take for us to move from left to right? From monolithic to agile? From a waterfall to a much leaner process? The feedback from the teams is that they’re excited about it. They’re excited about generating the same type of value internally that we were able to generate on the commerce side. Dell being a private company just marries with that effort very, very well. Because we can make decisions very quickly and we can move forward at speed. Bitcoin was a great example of this, as I mentioned earlier.

Pund-IT: Over the last 24 months as BYOD and employee engagement with external cloud services like AWS have come to the fore, CIO’s and IT are often portrayed as being somehow out of step with end users. Do you see that as a problem that you need to deal with, or as a challenge that you need to address? And if so, how do you intend to do that?

Walsh: On the BYOD front, we’ve been running a large, internal pilot. We offered the option to bring your own device to about 30,000 of our employees, specifically around smartphones. The pilot has been running quite well. We saw an uptake of about 58 percent, or approximately 17,000 people who actually have been bringing their devices in and using them, so I think we’re again getting ahead of the curve there and we’re answering the needs of our customer.

Pund-IT: That’s impressive. How about larger IT issues?

Walsh: With regards to IT being out of step, I think it speaks to what I mentioned earlier on how we start moving at the speed of the Internet. How do we move from being that inhibitor to being a part of the business? That’s really what we’re in right now. It’s a maturity curve and we’re really getting out ahead of it. So I don’t think that we’re being seen as an inhibitor today. We need to just continue to move to a much more agile process so we can keep on going faster. It’s all about the speed of delivery, and if we can truly use predictive analytics to understand the requirements of our customers and where they want to be, we can actually respond to customers’ needs very, very fast.

Pund-IT: What are you hearing from Dell’s global IT team with regard to what they want to focus on?

Walsh: There’s a level of excitement everywhere I go. I got back from India just a couple of weeks ago and employees were excited about being enabled to go out and innovate. We had a number of Innovation Days while I was over there, and for me it was like being in a candy store. I saw great new things that our internal IT department was building to enable our business.  These guys are creating some great, innovative stuff that won’t be limited to our internal customers. I think there are things that we could actually bring external.

Pund-IT: So internal innovation with commercial potential.

Walsh: Yes. Earlier today at Dell World, you probably heard John Swainson talking about the Dell Cloud Marketplace solution. A lot of that was built first on our own internal commerce platform. So it’s taking some of these components that we’re building and really looking at how we actually build that for external use. Then it becomes a business decision of whether or not you want to make it a solution that you take externally.

Pund-IT: That seems like a natural progression.

Walsh: Our own internal IT teams are actually thinking about it that way. Once you get into that product mindset, it’s really about satisfying the needs of the customer. Well, if you can satisfy the need of the customer here at Dell, is there a benefit to enabling that externally, as well? So we’re really looking at this from an end-to-end perspective. It’s not about the quick fix. As CIO, I’m enabling a lot of our internal IT teams to actually unleash that dynamic and get creative.

Pund-IT: Because Dell is a great example of a global IT vendor, do you notice any unique issues related to specific geographies that Dell needs to deal with? Or perhaps opportunities that would be open for Dell to pursue?

Walsh: Being in this role, I look at things the same way as when I was on the commerce side. What we had at that point was an ecommerce platform that was separate from our offline platforms. We built a standardized commerce platform Dell can use as an “omnichannel” – not just an ecommerce channel or an offline channel, but both. It all will run through the same commerce platform.

Pund-IT: No matter where employees were.

Walsh: Right. In other words we look at the requirements from a global perspective, see where the commonalities are, then create and deliver that platform. I’m really looking at the same thing when I think of the enterprise services or what we would call the back office services. How do we start standardizing that globally? You may deploy it regionally, but you define and build for global use.

Pund-IT: Are there differences from region to region?

Walsh:  Sure. As you go from, say, the US to Brazil, there will be variances. Taxation, maybe legal, language, currencies. But build it in a global manner and you actually start moving the needle in the way that you’re not maintaining individual stacks for each of these countries. Instead, you’re maintaining one stack that you can now move from left to right. You can actually now spend a lot less time just maintaining it and spend a lot more time and effort innovating because you have a standard. That’s how we’re looking at it. The teams seem to be excited about what we’re doing.

Pund-IT: Dell has obviously made a significant number of acquisitions over the past few years. Do you have any stories that you could share based on how the technology that’s being acquired in those deals is being used within Dell’s infrastructure?

Walsh: Absolutely. First of all, “Dell on Dell” is a great story. Having both the technologies we’ve acquired and our legacy technologies in-house allows us to integrate more deeply across all IT solutions, to embed best-of-breed technologies into existing and new solutions, and to ensure that solutions continue to be easy to buy, deploy, run and use. It’s a significant part of my strategy as we move forward. And we’ve already seen some great implementations of the Dell on Dell story. One would be around the Wyse thin client solutions, and how we’re enabling that within our manufacturing organization in Chengdu, China, for a low-cost, low-maintenance alternative to traditional desktop clients. Having no hard-drives or moving parts make Wyse clients ideal for factory environments. Another example is around Credant, which we now have running on probably about 70,000 desktops to improve security levels. We expect to save over $1.5M over the first year with that deployment. In addition, we’re using Boomi for 75 percent shorter integration time-to-value, which will lower TCO by up to 30 percent. The list goes on, but you can see how we’re approaching this. There’s also a clear benefit for external customers, because we can show them how we’re running quite a large organization on our tool sets, and we’re able to find where we need to innovate even within those tool sets.

Pund-IT: There were also considerable assets that came to Dell in the Quest acquisition.

Walsh: The software that came from Quest is being used in multiple situations. We benefitted significantly from Foglight, which is a suite of products for application, database and virtualization performance monitoring. Another great Quest asset we tapped into is the One Identity Management offering, which is now Dell One Identity.  Pund-IT: Successfully consuming your own solutions can be a great proof-point. It looks like it’s working very well for Dell.

Walsh: I think it ties into Dell’s overall strategy, and it’s a great example of how we are laser-focused on delivering best-in-class solutions to our customers – both internally and externally.

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