Dell Practices What It Preaches About Digital Transformation

NEWS ANALYSIS: Dell’s Merger With EMC in 2016 required the combined company to carry out its own digital transformation program to create a unified omni-channel customer experience with technology and expertise it now shares with clients.

Digital Transformation Path

LAS VEGAS—Dell Technologies this week celebrated its place as the leading enterprise technology provider here in a unified event that CEO Michael Dell proclaimed was "34 years in the making." 

He was referring to the fact that Dell's big annual event, Dell Technologies World, has now shed the "EMC" label left over from the 2016 merger with the storage giant and has brought together all of Dell's consumer and enterprise products, services, subsidiary companies, partners and customers under one roof. 

It has indeed been 34 years since Michael Dell formed his mail-order PC business, but it hasn't taken nearly as long to start realizing the benefits of digital transformation that Dell, EMC, VMware, Pivotal and Virtustream executives have been preaching for the past few years. 

In fact, it took less than a year in one particular internal use case, which was discussed in detail at a session here. It is called a “Dell Pivot,” not only because it was based on the use of Pivotal Cloud Foundry cloud development tools, but because the company pivoted around its legacy e-commerce sites to create a unified omni-channel customer experience designed to be easier and faster to manage and more responsive to customers and the business. 

“Digital transformation is everywhere and our businesses want to be empowered just like every other business,” said Greg Bowen, Senior Vice President and CTO, Dell Commerce Services at Dell Technologies. “We wanted to enable all the emerging businesses models.” 

The transformation began like that of most of Dell’s customers, as a result of slow response times to innovate and create change, no ability to take advantage of new technologies, and, most importantly, siloed data with no visibility into the customer experience. 

Enter Cloud Foundry 

Dell began its pivot close to home, with Pivotal Cloud Foundry, the commercial implementation of the open source platform-as-a-service, which recently held its North American Summit in Boston

Bowen and his team, led by Sarika Puri, senior director and head of digital commerce platform transformation at Dell EMC, were faced with multiple legacy platforms, creating disconnected experiences between consumer Dell.com consumers and Dell enterprise customers, as well as EMC customers looking for storage solutions. 

Changes to the legacy e-commerce sites took 45 days for a product release to go from testing to production and three days for deployment. Many pieces of the legacy sites were not even supported any more, their project teams long disbanded. Also, many sites were regional in nature, so there was no visibility on a national or global scale. “Technical debt was building up,” Bowen said. “It took us forever to get changes out into the environment. 

By creating a standard Dell technology stack and adopting the Cloud Foundry method, which focuses on 12-factor, cloud-native best practices, speed of delivery and scalability, the team saw immediate results. The three day of deployment time was reduced to 18 minutes. “It was not like we went from three days to two days to one day. We went from three days to 18 minutes immediately. It was like flipping a light switch.” 

Empowering the enterprise 

As is repeated often during talks on digital transformation, big changes are not solved by technology, but by people. “People, process and technology need to be aligned,” Puri said. “Pivotal changed the way we work and it was an important part of our success. The same team that was responsible for understanding the customer requirements became part of the process.” 

Dell didn’t have to detail its development transformation around Pivotal, because it has plenty of customers that are saying the same thing. “We have a fully automated infrastructure stack around PCF,” said Rajeev Khanna, CTO and senior vice president of insurance and financial services giant AON, who spoke here. “It required changing the culture and mindset, but now we can digitize at a faster pace and get to market faster.” 

Dell’s plan is to expand its program and drive it across all aspects of its enterprise. Order management, accounting, manufacturing and product development are also targets for integrating the new methodologies into their business processes. 

“We want to embed the experience and make it as big as possible across the entire enterprise,” Bowen said. 

Scot Petersen is a technology analyst at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. He has an extensive background in the technology field. Prior to joining Ziff Brothers, Scot was the editorial director, Business Applications & Architecture, at TechTarget. Before that, he was the director, Editorial Operations, at Ziff Davis Enterprise. While at Ziff Davis Media, he was a writer and editor at eWEEK. No investment advice is offered in his blog. All duties are disclaimed. Scot works for a private investment firm, which may at any time invest in companies whose products are discussed in this blog, and no disclosure of securities transactions will be made. 

Scot Petersen

Scot Petersen

Scot Petersen is a technology analyst at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. Prior to joining Ziff Brothers, Scot was the editorial director, Business Applications & Architecture,...