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Editorial: Dell's IT-as-a-service plan is no joke

I'm going to tell you something, and you're probably going to laugh, but try to contain yourself. Ready? Dell is getting into the IT-as-a-service business. So much for containing yourself. I'll wait till you're composed.

You might think that in light of Dell's dismal track record on service in recent years, the idea of relying on the company as a provider of IT as a service is comical. Perhaps. But the least we can do is hear the company out.

I'm not breaking any news here. Dell executives at conferences and during earnings calls over the past several months have been talking about the company's intention to provide what is essentially a hosted remote management service to small and midsize businesses. And last week, Steve Schuckenbrock, CIO and president of global services at Dell, outlined the plan.

Speaking at Computerworld's Premier 100 IT Leaders Conference in Orlando, Schuckenbrock said the company wants to build on its strengths in configurability and supply-chain optimization and do for the supply chain of services the same thing that Michael Dell did for the supply chain of hardware when he founded the company 23 years ago. Using technology it gained last year through its acquisitions of the Everdream software-as-a-service platform and Silverback Technologies' remote management and proactive monitoring tools, Dell aims to provide a hosted service that will identify problems with users' systems before they even manifest themselves to the users, and transparently solve them. Dell is currently piloting the service with about a dozen companies and plans to roll it out commercially in the Americas this summer and in Europe and Asia before the end of the year.

I spoke with Schuckenbrock after his presentation, and I asked him the obvious questions, starting with the one about the elephant in the room. I prefaced it by pointing out that there's a reason why Web sites have sprung up with names like Ihatedell.net and Dellhellrevisited.blogspot.com. (The only reason there's no Dellhell.com is that Dell registered the domain name in February 1999 to keep it out of the hands of pesky customers.) And then I phrased the question as delicately as I could:

"What's your response to someone who says that under the circumstances, there's a certain irony in Dell positioning itself as a service provider, because Dell service is kind of a joke?"

"I don't agree with that," Schuckenbrock replied. "If you look at those sites, they call out specific issues, most of which are consumer- driven issues, not commercial, business-driven issues. If you look at our commercial business, it's performing very, very well."

But wait a minute. Schuckenbrock noted in his presentation that Dell's consumer business accounts for only 15% of revenue, so it's seen as a key growth area for the company. It's difficult to see why the fact that those Web sites focus on consumer issues makes Dell service any less of a joke. When I called him on that, Schuckenbrock insisted that the situation is getting better. "Hopefully, you and others have seen a significant improvement in the last 12 to 18 months," he said. "Our own internal measures taken from direct customer feedback confirm that we are headed in the right direction."

At the same time, Schuckenbrock acknowledged that Dell has an image problem as a result of the unfortunate decision a few years ago to move a lot of its support services offshore.

"Anytime you make mistakes, you have to perform in order to overcome those mistakes," he said. "But I think we are performing, and I think there's plenty of evidence beginning to mount that that's a thing of the past."

Schuckenbrock may be right. The only posting on the Dellhellrevisited blog in the entire month of February was a piece that was taken from my blog about a problem with the screens on Inspiron 9300 notebooks.

At this rate, who knows? Maybe Dell won't have to renew its ownership of the Dellhell.com domain name when it expires next February. What a boon for its IT-as-a-service business that would be.

Don Tennant is editorial director of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Contact him at don_tennant@computerworld.com, and visit his blog at http://blogs.computerworld.com/tennant.

Source:  March 17, 2008 (Computerworld), Editorial: Dell's IT-as-a-service plan is no joke, By Don Tennant

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