Back in our phone chat and with that type of scenario in mind, Lark described a powerful trend among IT executives in which their thinking uncouples business capability from rigid in-house infrastructure. "I spend 30-40% of my time with customers and this is what we hear from them most consistently: 'I want to deliver IT as a service. I'm less and less interested in infrastructure and more and more on the service delivery so we can focus on how we optimize the workload.' "
In Dell's ongoing transformation, he said, that means the company must show it's capable of delivering on that profoundly different set of needs being expressed by CIOs: "Now their concern is the transformation of the entire business and they want not just some fancy notebooks, but rather a fully integrated information environment from cloud to mobile devices and disaster recovery with enterprise-level user management and authentication and so on.
"And large corporations don't even ask us about buying notebooks—instead, they ask us, 'Can you provision all these workers for me?' "
Which led to the final piece of our conversation: Dell's belief that the iPad's current reign as the coolest enterprise device ever created will be short-lived.
"Among our customers, we're seeing the rise of what we call the information consumer—they're very light on the actual processing of data, but very very high on the consumption and analysis of it," Lark said.
"We'll soon have a full suite of enterprise tablets specifically designed for these information consumers. The buyer in the enterprise doesn't want an iPad"—I had to stifle a laugh; by its first birthday in April, businesses will probably have purchased about 10 million of them—"but they do want a fully configured and delivered enterprise tablet that's packaged with full support and maintenance, and flexibility in carriers, and highest-level security, and parameters for storage and provisioning and managing the whole experience."
I admire Dell's pluckiness in wanting to transcend its solid but limited past, and I admire its vision in charting out a course that will let it leverage its traditional strengths as it expands into higher-value enterprise offerings. And as Lark said, transformations at IT companies with $60 billion in revenue don't happen overnight.
But time is not on Dell's side—to achieve the set of ambitious goals outlined above, the company will have to bring to its new future the same hair-on-fire urgency that made it so successful in the PC business that's now becoming a part of its past.
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Bob Evans is senior VP and director of
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