Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Dear Michael Dell: What Happened?


I’m sure I’m not the first to say I’m excited to see you back leading the company you built. It’s been discouraging to see an organization that had pushed innovation so far, for so long, get lapped: first by lower cost manufacturers, then by the transformational forces of tablet computing and platform as a service. All of a sudden, your company is stuck with a bunch of laptops and servers that no-one needs, and nothing in the pipeline that’s going to move the needle (Venue tablets and consumer electronics? Meh.). I’m sure it’s an uncomfortable place to be.

Note to you, Michael Dell: if it’s a great deal, and it’s in someone’s cart, it’s a safe bet they’re going to buy it.

Not to add fuel to the fire, but the whole online commerce / integrated supply chain thing you had going is also no longer a competitive advantage. I bought my first two laptops (in 2001 and 2004) using Dell’s online “configure to order” capabilities that everyone else benchmarked against, just so I could brag about how easy it was to my peers. Nowadays, I can build everything you had in the early/mid-2000s using off-the-shelf solutions (e.g., Salesforce.com, BigMachines), yet it feels like your ordering experience hasn’t evolved since then. Forget features—the visual design feels like something a second-tier reseller would run.

Even with all these challenges, the Dell site was the first place I went this year to purchase a Christmas present for my teenage son. My wife was tired of him monopolizing the family laptop for “homework”, so I decided to take the plunge and get him a machine that would last him a couple of years. When I got your newspaper circular announcing your CyberMonday deals, I saw my opportunity—an Inspiron 15R Touch for $499. It was a PC Mag Editor’s Choice to boot!