Michael Dellís Play Nice But Win: Four Decades of Innovation (Part III)

Is Dell still innovating after almost four decades? One barometer: they have 32,000 patents granted and pending!

Michael Dell has been innovating for 37 years—this is exceptional and outstanding. Few companies can innovate at one point in their history, let alone successfully reinventing themselves.

At the core of many of their early years was their computer assembly-focused business model. As Dell describes, they had a “rock-the-universe business model: selling direct to consumers, giving them the exact computers and peripherals they wanted at prices that beat the market-up goods in retail stores by a mile. We were unique—and so under the radar that our biggest competitors, IBM and Compaq, failed to notice us.” [104] That’s a starting point.

Today the company is very different. Dell Technologies, as described on the cover flap of the book, is “an innovator and technology leader providing the essential infrastructure for organizations to build the digital future, transform IT, and protect their most important information.”

Innovation has always been part of the DNA of Dell Corp. About 10 years after the company started, something called the Internet came along. Dell points out that in 1994 there were just over 2,700 websites in the world: up from 130 the year before and only 10 the year before that. Almost immediately, in 1994, he created www.dell.com [213] He grasped the potential: “The way I saw it, online purchasing and our direct sales model were a perfect marriage.” [214]

Fast-forward to the present and Michael Dell sees great opportunities for innovators. He refers to the “Cambrian explosion in the world of big data” [300]. He views that as a fourth industrial revolution that merges the worlds of technology and business [301].

He explains that “…technology is the fulcrum of progress in everything you’re doing” [301]. He notes that “5G is especially thrilling…it’s about making everything in the world intelligent and connected” [302].

He is also excited about artificial intelligence (“AI”) and machine learning (“ML”). Dell notes that, “Analysis by AI and ML will create new insights, dramatically improving every sector from commerce to health care, education, and finance—even government.” 302]

The world of computing is extending out to the physical world. The place where they meet is called “the Edge.” [303] “A collection of clouds working together is the digital future. And Dell Technologies is a leader in innovation in all the aforementioned areas and more, investing more than $4 billion a year in R&D:  we now have over thirty-two thousand patents granted and pending.” [303]

In short, Dell reflects that they have succeeded in recent years, “We were doing old things differently, and new things very differently.” [243] He astutely notes that “Companies with leadership positions, if they continue to invest and serve their customers well, are hard to unseat. It’s not impossible, but it rarely occurs.” [249] He doesn’t want to lose his seat.

With respect to the EMC / Dell merger, the expectation was that since both companies had proven innovation engines that together they would have more scale, a better supply chain, and more commercial customers [273-4]. As described in Part II of this blog series, it’s working.

In short, it appears that innovation will continue at Dell / EMC. Michael Dell remains just as curious now as when he was in high school. He remains excited about future technologies and possibilities.