To publish this post, I must first discredit myself. I'm 42, and while I love what I do for a living, Michael Dell is 47 and his company was already doing $1 million a day in business by the time he was 31. I look at guys like that and think: "What the h*** have I been doing with my time?!?" Nevertheless, Dell is a company I've followed more closely than any other but Apple since the mid-2000s, and in the past two years I've had the opportunity to meet with several Dell executives and employees - from Montpellier, France to Austin, Texas.
Because I cover both PC hardware as well as client virtualization here at Forrester, it puts me in regular contact with Dell customers who will inevitably ask what we as a firm think about Dell's latest announcements to go private, just as they have for HP these past several quarters since the circus started over there with Mr. Apotheker. Hopefully what follows here is information and analysis that you as an I&O leader can rely on to develop your own perspective on Dell with more clarity.
Complexity is Dell's enemy
The complexity of Dell as an organization right now is enormous. They have been on a "Quest" to re-invent themselves and go from PC and server vendor, to an end-to-end solutions vendor with the hope that their chief differentiator could be unique software to drive more repeatable solutions delivery, and in turn lower solutions cost. I say the word 'hope' deliberately because to do that means focusing most of their efforts around a handful of solutions that no other vendor could provide. It's a massive undertaking because as a public company, they have to do this while keeping cash-flow going in their lines of business from each acquisition and growing those while they develop the focused solutions. So far, they haven't.
It's a little-known fact that both Southwest Airlines and the (soon-to-be) famous Yee-Haw Pickle Company began life on a cocktail napkin. What better medium to illustrate why Windows Intune should be on your radar as an I&O leader or professional?
In the late 1990s, no one could have imagined what PC management would eventually entail in an always-on, always-connected world. Those of you who know me, know that I've either managed or marketed 3 different client management product lines in my career. All of the vendors in the space, including Microsoft, have spent the last 15 years trying to make it easier to manage Windows PCs on an enterprise scale, for utility, security, business continuity and performance.
A mess? I'd say! I spoke with a mid-sized oil company a few weeks ago about their client management tools, processes and maturity. They use only a fraction of System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) 2007's capabilities. The weekly patch cycle and packaging alone are a full time job for one person, and endpoint protection and remediation are still wishlist items. Half of their assets sit at the end of satellite links 50 miles from the nearest towns and they have a fleet of trucks manned by a small army of techs dedicated to just fixing PC problems over 5 big western US States. Expensive? You bet. Ineffective? Absolutely.
Tablets aren’t the most powerful computing gadgets. But they are the most convenient.
They’re bigger than the tiny screen of a smartphone, even the big ones sporting nearly 5-inch screens.
They have longer battery life and always-on capabilities better than any PC — and will continue to be better at that than any ultrathin/book/Air laptop. That makes them very handy for carrying around and using frequently, casually, and intermittently even where there isn’t a flat surface or a chair on which to use a laptop.
And tablets are very good for information consumption, an activity that many of us do a lot of. Content creation apps are appearing on tablets. They’ll get a lot better as developers get used to building for touch-first interfaces, taking advantage of voice input, and adding motion gestures.
They’re even better for sharing and working in groups. There’s no barrier of a vertical screen, no distracting keyboard clatter, and it just feels natural to pass over a tablet, like a piece of paper, compared to spinning around a laptop.
Enterprise laptops are on the shopping list for many I&O professionals I speak with every week, with some asking if Netbooks are the antidote to the MacBook Air for their people. Well, on the menu of enterprise laptops, I think of Netbooks as an appetizer -- inexpensive, but after an hour my stomach is growling again. Garden-variety ultraportables on the other hand are like a turkey sandwich -- everything I need to keep me going, but they make me sleepy halfway through the afternoon.
Ultrabooks are a new class of notebook promoted by Intel and are supposed to be a little more like caviar and champagne -- light and powerful, but served on business-class china with real silverware and espresso. At least that's what I took away after being briefed by Intel on the topic. I had the chance to sample HP's new Ultrabook fare in San Francisco a few weeks ago while they were still in the test kitchen, and it seems they took a little different approach. Not bad, just different.
It struck me that rather than beluga and Dom Perignon , HP has created more of a Happy Meal -- a tasty cheeseburger and small fries with a Diet Coke, in a lightweight, easy to carry package for a bargain price. It has everything the road warrior needs to get things done, and like a Happy Meal, they can carry it on the plane and set it on the tray table…even if the clown in front of them reclines. Folio offers the Core i5-2467M processor, 4GB RAM, a 13.3" LED display and a 128GB SSD storage, a 9-hour battery and USB 3.0 + Ethernet ports as highlights, all for $900. It's a true bargain. I think I will call it the McUltrabook.
A couple of weeks ago, I proposed that I&O Professionals should repeal Mac prohibition and find ways to empower employees who are choosing Macs in increasing numbers and bringing them to the office. This was based on fresh 2011 research with Forrester clients, vendors and survey respondents, and concluded that not only were the numbers of Macs in enterprises increasing rapidly, but that the people choosing their own technology for the office, are often the highest performers.
Philip Elmer-DeWitt of Fortune's Apple 2.0 picked it up right away and made a very astute observation: that Forrester's stance on Macs in the enterprise had seemingly flip-flopped. His conclusion was based on a 2007 Forrester report on enterprise desktop trends in which Forrester observed: "Macs can be ignored for all but niche business groups." The conclusion was based on the data of the time, which showed Microsoft's enterprise desktop market share at 95%, but also noted that Apple's had doubled. We also observed in the same report that "Microsoft is not innovating," and "Vista is having a tough time in enterprises," based on data which showed slow uptake of Windows Vista and Internet Explorer 7.
HP made the right decision today to keep the Personal Systems Group. Beyond the reasons cited, supply chain and sales synergy and expense of spinning out, it's also crucial for HP to remain in the market for personal devices, which is entering a period of radical transformation and opportunity. The innovations spawned first by RIM with the BlackBerry, followed by the transformative effects of Apple's iPhone and iPad are beginning to ripple into the PC market. Apple's MacBook Air and Lion operating system, combined with Microsoft's Metro interface for Windows 8 herald the beginning of a transformation of personal computing devices. By keeping PSG, HP has the opportunity to innovate and differentiate in the PC market that will move away from commodity patterns.
For vendor strategists at vendors of all sizes, one of the lessons of HP's decision is that consumer businesses are becoming more relevant to succeeding in commercial products for end users. During the announcement call today, CEO Meg Whitman talked about the importance of "consumerization" in winning business from enterprises. I heartily endorse that view and look forward to sharing a report soon on how consumerization is changing commercial product development.
Do you think consumerization was a part of why HP kept PCs?
What effect do you think consumerization will have in IT markets?
I just attended IDF and I’ve got to say, Intel has certainly gotten the cloud message. Almost everything is centered on clouds, from the high-concept keynotes to the presentations on low-level infrastructure, although if you dug deep enough there was content for general old-fashioned data center and I&O professionals. Some highlights:
Chips and processors and low-level hardware
Intel is, after all, a semiconductor foundry, and despite their expertise in design, their true core competitive advantage is their foundry operations – even their competitors grudgingly acknowledge that they can manufacture semiconductors better than anyone else on the planet. As a consequence, showing off new designs and processes is always front and center at IDF, and this year was no exception. Last year it was Sandy Bridge, the 22nm shrink of the 32nm Westmere (although Sandy Bridge also incorporated some significant design improvements). This year it was Ivy Bridge, the 22nm “tick” of the Intel “tick-tock” design cycle. Ivy Bridge is the new 22nm architecture and seems to have inherited Intel’s recent focus on power efficiency, with major improvements beyond the already solid advantages of their 22nm process, including deeper P-States and the ability to actually shut down parts of the chip when it is idle. While they did not discuss the server variants in any detail, the desktop versions will get an entirely new integrated graphics processor which they are obviously hoping will blunt AMD’s resurgence in client systems. On the server side, if I were to guess, I would guess more cores and larger caches, along with increased support for virtualization of I/O beyond what they currently have.
First off, let me say this: I hope that Steve Jobs' health improves, and that he comes out of whatever challenges he's going through in the best of health. He's an amazing, visionary leader of a dynamic company -- and he's also a person with a family. Let's all wish him well.
While famously a CEO, Steve Jobs is also, it should be known, a product strategist par excellence. He's clearly been involved, in a deep way, in the development of Apple's product ideas, product designs, business models, go-to-market strategies, and responses to competition. These are the job responsibilities of product strategists. In his (and Apple's) case, product strategy has risen to the very top of the organization.
Product strategists of two different flavors are wondering how they might be affected by his resignation as CEO (and concomitant request to become chairman):
Product strategists who compete with Apple. Product strategists at companies like Microsoft, Google, Samsung, HP, Dell, HTC, and similar firms wonder if Steve Jobs' change in role might benefit them. They actually shouldn't wonder: His departure from the CEO spot won't benefit them -- not for a very long time, at least. Apple's product development road map stretches into multiple years ahead and has been shaped both by Jobs and by the organization he built. Jobs' departure won't affect Apple's product portfolio, quality, or competitiveness for a long time -- if ever.
The iPad has been a huge hit with consumers: Only a couple of months after the launch, Forrester’s Technographics data shows that 1.3%, or 2.5 million, US online consumers report that they already own an Apple iPad, and an additional 3.8% (7.4 million) say they intend to buy one. The success of the Apple iPad has created a halo around tablets in general: About 14%, or 27 million, US online consumers say they intend to buy some kind of tablet in the next 12 months — more than any other type of device we’ve asked about.
A recent Forrester report “US Tablet Buyers Are Multi-PC Consumers” shows that it’s not all good news for PC manufacturers. Because, although consumers are getting excited about tablets in general, they're confused about what they actually are. This confusion probably means that not everybody that shows an interest will actually buy a tablet, but we do think it shows that there's interest in the category that goes beyond the iPad. PC manufacturers like Dell, HP, Samsung, Sony, and Toshiba need to offer consumers a bit of guidance on what a tablet is, what it can do, and how it complements the extensive range of devices they already own.
This achievement wasn't unexpected -- in August, 2007, we predictedthat Acer would become a formidable industry titan: "Acer's announcement that it will acquire Gateway is a clever plan, as Acer simultaneously improves its brand recognition, channel reach, and opportunity for gains in margin. Like IBM Deep Blue, Acer strategists calculated several moves ahead in the global PC chess game. If the execution is solid, this deal will create a powerful third-place PC competitor that will challenge HP and Dell by 2009, and it portends the rise of non-Japanese Asian PC superpowers."
Acer has proven shrewd in product strategy over the past few years. (Indeed, we declared that "even war strategist Sun-Tzu" couldn't have done better!). Acer's work with Ferarri was a masterstroke in branding (from an unexpected company, at the time). Acer's excellence in netbooks has ridden the wave of the market at the right time. More fundamentally, Acer's cost structure benefits from its proximity to Asian-based factories and original design manufacturers (ODMs). Dell, once the king of cost structure, isn't in as privileged a position. And Acer's access to retail channel (including Gateway's) and experience in SKU management in retail is currently superior to Dell's. (Dell re-entered retail after a long hiatus).