Dell as a services company? Maybe, say customers

Dell hopes first conference changes perceptions that it's just about hardware

AUSTIN, Texas -- The default view of Dell among some of its customers is that it is a hardware company. It is a view that Dell wants to change as it moves ever deeper into services.

Dell's decision to hold its first ever enterprise conference may be helping it to change minds, according to some of its customers.

Take Thomas Glaser, vice president of IT at Howard Community College in Columbia, Md. He has been buying Dell hardware for a decade, and this week he was walking around the trade show floor visiting exhibits.

"Going through this has been a real eye-opener," said Glaser, noting that he wasn't aware of all the services Dell has added, such as educational metrics. "It's hard to get that awareness without walking through a facility like this."

Glaser is open to buying services, but he worries about them as well. The more of his IT budget that goes to recurring services, the less he may have to jump on new innovation, he said.

Dan Bracy, director of IT at Orthofix, a medical services company in Dallas, said he was invited by his Dell rep to attend the conference. A longtime Dell hardware user, he pointed out that he has had some quality issues with Dell laptops and moved to a different supplier.

But at this conference, Bracy seemed opened to the idea of returning to Dell laptops after hearing from the company and getting details on new models. And when considering services, Dell's "name will come up now," he said.

Bracy saw value in the conference. As an established supplier, Bracy said that Dell already has access to him. But his office also gets 100 calls a day from vendors trying to sell something. "To get in front of me requires something like this," he said of the conference.

Russ Jackson, an IT manager at Simpson Lumber Co., in Tacoma, Wash., views Dell as a hardware firm and remains unconvinced that it is the leading company to go to for certain services. Even so, Jackson said the conference will "keep me thinking about Dell as a services company."

Michael Dell, the chairman and CEO, told attendees that the company is "rapidly evolving to end-to-end solutions to the cloud, data center, and still to the client."

Dell made a major leap into services when it acquired Perot Systems for nearly $4 billion in 2009, one year after Hewlett-Packard bought EDS for $13.9 billion.

Dell has been acquiring firms with regularity, such as data technology firm Compellent last year for $800 million, and SecureWorks, a security firm, for an undisclosed price earlier this year. The company is also increasing its research-and-development efforts.

Another conference attendee is Paul Aldridge, the CIO of Genomic Health, a cancer diagnostic and personalized medicine firm. He was using both Compellent and SecureWorks at the time they were acquired by Dell. The company uses Dell systems as well.

Dell made "good decisions" with those acquisitions, he said, adding that he was at this week's conference "to understand better what the Dell ecosystem brings to the table" -- and to get more leverage out of the relationship.

Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

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