LAS VEGAS—There has been a lot of buzz over the past few years about the need for companies to change the way they do business to address a rapidly evolving landscape driven by the massive amounts of data that is being generated by the billions of connected devices, the rise of cloud computing and emerging technologies such as analytics and artificial intelligence.
The trend toward digitization will only continue, and businesses are going to have to adapt or fall by the wayside, Dell Technologies CEO Michael Dell said April 30 during the opening keynote of the Dell Technologies World show here.
However, even as most businesses understand the need to pursue a strategy of digital transformation, many are unclear about the benefits of adopting such technologies as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning in their operations.
A recent survey of customers by Dell showed mixed results on such questions, Dell said. Half of those participating in the Realizing 2030 survey said that such technologies will free up employee time, an indication that the half didn’t believe that. In addition, 49 percent said their employees could be more productive through greater collaboration. However, 43 percent don’t know whether they’ll be able to compete over the next decade and 57 percent are struggling to keep up with the pace of change.
But, 82 percent said they expected their companies to be primarily software-defined within five years.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty about what’s happening, but there’s an appetite” for the benefits that these emerging technologies can deliver, he told a crowd of about 14,000 conference attendees.
In a talk that was more a high-level view of where Dell and the industry are headed than a detailed dive into new products and services, Dell talked about the inevitability of greater digitization and automation and how Dell Technologies—and in particular, the seven businesses that make up the company—provides the broadest range of offerings that are focused on helping businesses thrive in an increasingly distributed and highly automated hybrid- and multi-cloud world.
“Every customer that I meet is reimagining how they use technology in all aspects of their business,” Dell said, driven primarily by the need to better and more quickly collect, store, process and analyze the huge amounts of data that is being created. “To be competitive in the future, you’ve got to use software and data and AI, he said. “Data makes products and services better, which translates into more customers, which produces more data—and the cycle continues.”
Dell teases product news
During the address, Dell teased news from a number of the company’s businesses, including Dell EMC, VMware and Pivotal, that is expected to come out on the second day of the show May 1 that will touch on a number of Dell Technologies businesses and emerging technologies.
The company earlier this month announced new offerings in its PC business. However, at the center of the changes going on in the IT industry is data, and AI is the technology that promises to unlock the potential value inside the data. Businesses are going to need to embrace AI for their data if they want to survive.
“If you’re not using AI with your data, you could be out of business real soon,” he said during question-and-answer session with journalists and analysts after the keynote. He noted that inside Dell itself there are hundreds of projects that leverage AI, some of which are showing up in products and others that are making operations inside Dell work even better.
The amount data will continue to grow, Dell said. He noted that an average city by 2020 will produce 200PB of new data per day, and “99 percent of that data is not coming from people, but from things. Everything that has electrons pulsing through it is becoming intelligent.”
As more systems and devices are connected and infused with intelligence, the amount of data will grow. AI will be crucial in enabling companies to analyze all this data to make decisions that will make them more efficient and to better serve their customers, Dell asserted.
Despite the challenges that emerge from Dell’s Realizing 2030 survey, there are businesses that are using AI and its various components—such as machine learning, deep learning and neural networks—to give them a competitive advantage, and the vendor is seeing the impact on its own business, Dell said.
Dell sees massive growth in corporate AI use
“What I’m seeing is an absolute explosion for use of AI,” he said during the session after the keynote. “The idea here is you’re taking all this data and learning an inference to draw better conclusions from the data. We’ve seen a rapid acceleration in our server business last quarter and this quarter. When you dig into why this is happening, you’re seeing AI as a big use case.”
The CEO also pushed back at those in the industry, such as Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who have sounded warnings about the dangers of AI and the need to tightly regulate the technology to ensure that it’s used safely. Dell downplayed fears of what he called a ”robopocalypse,” saying he instead is optimistic about the future of AI. The technology promises to vastly improve people’s lives and the world can’t turn away from it, he said.
“AI is very powerful,” he said. “Bad stuff could happen, but it’s our job to prevent all that. If you try to hold something back that’s really powerful and good fundamentally, that’s just not going to work. I am much more optimistic, Dell said. “There’s going to be bad people who [use AI with evil intent], but we’ve got to figure out how to stop them.”
All of this change in the IT industry is happening at a time when Dell and other company executives are trying to map the company’s future. Dell is 16 months past its massive $60 billion-plus acquisition of EMC—which itself came just three years after Dell took his company private in a $24.9 billion deal—all of which saddled the company with about $40 billion in debt.
In answering questions from journalists, Dell said nothing has changed in the options being explored—such as having VMware buy Dell in a reverse merger or taking Dell Technologies public and keeping things as they are. He also said the company is paying down debt on schedule and is ahead of revenue projections made before the EMC acquisition.