I have a list of folks that I enjoy the hell out of talking with, and this pandemic has made it very hard to stay in touch. High on that list is Jeff Clarke, the COO and Vice-Chairman of Dell Technologies. The guy has a ton of heart, seems to grasp the vast complexity of what is a very complex and sophisticated company, and he is one of the few folks I know that seems to do a decent job of balancing work and home life. He doesn’t make predictions often but when he does I pay attention, and I think you should, too.
Back on June 14, Clarke made a series of predictions on our near-term future, and this month, I’d like to talk about a few of them. He spoke about inflection points (he called them acceleration points) that have primarily changed how companies will be run differently going forward. These points included a permanent move to remote working under new models that pool talent and reduce environmental impact, massive supply chain changes needed to address to respond to the changing world, the coming fourth industrial revolution (a topic in and of itself) and the massive increase in importance for health care and education.
Let’s take each in turn.
For much of my professional life, it seemed like managers believed that a remote-focused workforce was an oxymoron, and yet here we are forced to make one work. As Jeff points out, the debate about whether a large remote workforce works well is over, and the remote workforce won. This alone is important because I’ve seen company after company with a top executive change ping-pong the employees. After all, suddenly they believe a system that is working isn’t working–primarily because of biases that preexisted their joining the firm.
Clarke talks about a best-practice process that begins with doing it lightly, so you aren’t testing at scale. Any related mistakes are relatively small and are like more learning experiences than catastrophes. Dell was already aggressive with work at home when the pandemic hit, so this part of the process is complete, allowing them to pivot relatively quickly.
The second is to do it right. This phase requires a focus on quality over quantity or, more often, removing the focus from the goal to ensure that the quality of the goal has priority. I’ve often seen, in a rush to do things fast, they have to be redone, and the time it takes to correct the mistakes can significantly exceed the time it would have taken had the firm done it right the first time.
Shift to innovate. When people are in place and productive, then you focus on improving that productivity. Often processes that work well on-premise are sub-optimal when people are working from home. There are no water coolers or cubicle walls to chat around or over, yet people still need to connect both professionally and personally to forge viable teams. In short, the job isn’t still far from done when people start working remotely; you now need to focus on optimizing them in the new normal.
Global supply chains must change
Before the pandemic, the focus was mostly on cost, and that shifted much of the world’s manufacturing to China, then China shut down, and everyone was screwed. Now the focus is on redundancy, reliability and flexibility with total cost moving down in importance. It does you no good to get the lowest price if you can’t subsequently get the parts.
Dell is historically a world leader in the supply chain. Every company has a core advantage, and this one from Dell has existed for most of its existence. To make this work, you need a ton of data, real-time data, from your suppliers so that you have plenty of warning and a plan in place should they become non-viable. Unlike some vendors (Apple comes to mind) who abuse their vendors, Dell learned right off that if you take care of your suppliers, they’ll take care of you even during hard times. In the end, it is a partnership, not an opportunity to use your size and power to drive prices to unsustainable levels, and Dell’s history of treating their suppliers well allowed the company to better function during the pandemic.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution
I first ran into this concept of another industrial revolution at Dell World around a decade ago. I think it is a better term than “digital transformation,” which speaks to what you need to do because change is driven by need, not by capability. For instance, you likely won’t buy an electric car if you are told you need an electrical transformation. Still, you might if you were told the automotive industry was undergoing an electrical revolution. This revolution has data at the core, and it enables several coming breakthroughs, some of which we already see, in AI, robotics and connected everything.
He and I are both seeing conversations shifting from the tactical to the strategic, and company after company are realizing that most companies will not survive the coming change.
Health care and education
Education has to shift to the new normal of home study and homeschooling. Even as kids get back to class, density has to drop, suggesting school weeks will be a mix of work-from-home or work-from-a-remote, less-dense classroom and teaching in person. New learning methods and platforms are being developed and so is new training for teachers, who now must fully step into the digital world.
Health care is in crisis; as we talk, a lot of hospitals are just short of going bankrupt, and hospital staff is under unsustainable stress and risk. Providers are putting in place massive programs to expand programs that better prevent illness, because they no longer have the resources needed–nor can patients afford–their prior focus on treating illnesses; their focus has to now be on keeping you well. An example is an effort in India to launch the Digital LifeCare Solution.
Dell Technologies enters the decade as the most powerful technology company in the world in terms of product breadth, depth and company reach. But Clarke knows that this has been a revolving door pretty much every decade going back to the 1980s, when we began to swap the leaders out regularly. Making sure you aren’t swapped out is the job of the top executive staff, and Jeff’s vision showcases that he is aware of the threat and is pivoting Dell to survive and prosper through it.
Enterprises–and that would be most of them–that are thinking tactically right now are at risk for the changes to come. Following Clarke’s example and taking a hard look at the coming world and how it will impact you will go a long way to making sure you ride the coming wave and aren’t buried by it.
Best of luck! Here is hoping you come out the back end well, safe, and in better shape than you are now.
Rob Enderle is a principal at Enderle Group. He is a nationally recognized analyst and a longtime contributor to QuinStreet publications and Pund-IT.