Dell is on a mission to make information technology easier to deploy for small businesses, said chairman and CEO Michael Dell at the company's "town hall" meeting in New York City on Tuesday.
Dell in June conducted research in 12 countries, where it asked 1,800 small businesses about their IT buying decisions. Sixty-six percent of small-business owners said IT is extremely important to them. However, 75% said budget constraints are a major factor that limits the use of IT in their business, and 80% said management's discomfort with technology limits the use of IT.
"Small companies asked us to make technology easier to use, so they can focus on their business and not IT. Our goal is simplifying IT for these companies," said Dell.
The company delivered the first fruits of that vision with the introduction of Vostro, a line of notebook computers, desktops PCs, and services designed specifically for companies with one to 25 employees. Vostro laptops start at $449 and the desktops start at $319.
Vostro fixes some quirks found in consumer products. It doesn't come with trialware -- pesky software made available to users for a limited time during setup. Customers "hated trialware," Michael Dell said.
The company has also dedicated 6,500 technical support reps to help small businesses with their deployments. The reps will provide advice on issues related to backup, recovery, security, and getting the Vostro products up and running.
With Vostro, small businesses can cut the time it takes to set up a computer in half and reduce the number of steps it takes to connect to a network. Previously Dell offered shared tech support to consumers and its small-business customers, as well as a shared product line: Dimension desktop computers and Inspiron notebook computers.
"We're rethinking the way we support small business customers. It's a major step forward for us. We realize that their needs are a lot different from those of consumers," said Frank Muehleman, general manager and VP of Dell's small business unit, in an interview.
Dell is essentially building an ecosystem that addresses key issues. Vostro, for example, comes with a service called DataSafe Online that offers 10 Gbytes of online storage for a year. For technology advice and to share best practices with others, a small business can turn to a newly created online forum called SB 360.
Future products and services to help small businesses are also in the works. "In addition to disk data, we will provide online network backup at some point, and we plan to support emerging communications like voice over IP on Dell computers," Muehleman said.
Dell made a lot of progress in the small-business space, but it still has a long way to go, admitted Michael Dell. "We found that we were growing our headcount faster than revenue. There are things still to do in expense management," he said. In May, Dell announced plans to cut about 10% of its workforce.
Over the last 90 days, Dell's unit volumes overseas bypassed those in the United States. With two new factories in China and other factories in India, Ireland, Brazil, and Poland, Dell sees new opportunities for growth in non-U.S. markets. Expect the company to aggressively pursue them going forward. Michael Dell concluded, "What we're announcing today is just the beginning."