Lead Analyst: Cal Braunstein
CEO Michael Dell is coordinating a buyout of Dell Inc. for $24.4 billion in the hopes that the company can more effectively go through its transformation if it does not have to deal with reporting results quarterly to fickle investors. Michael Dell's MSD Capital (his investment firm), has teamed with Silver Lake Partners to take the company private. Microsoft Corp. will be assisting in the buyout in the form of a $2 billion loan. If the buyout is successful – which it should be at some price – what does it portend for IT executives and commercial accounts?
To understand where Dell needs to go, one needs to first see where it is. Dell started as a low-cost PC company in the consumer market. It gradually switched to a bifurcated model – PC for consumers and PC and servers for the commercial space, primarily the public, small and medium business (SMB), and large enterprise markets. Over the past six years the company acquired 22 companies – 10 in 2012 alone – and expanded into other hardware components, software and services, including cloud services. But the company has lost its momentum. It lost PC market share and sales in 2012 faster than most of its competitors, which is disastrous for a company that derives more than half of its revenues from end-user computing solutions.
Smartphones and tablets have curtailed the growth of the traditional PC market and Dell's commercial business has not made up for the loss in end-user revenues. In fact, in both businesses Dell is considered a low-cost commodity hardware provider and not a market or thought leader. The company has not fully integrated all of its acquisitions and is struggling to reach its strategic goal of becoming a one-stop shop. The buyout gives the company time to re-think and execute a long-term strategy, reorganize and change its culture. As CEO Meg Whitman at Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) can attest, a turnaround is a multi-year effort and doing so in public when quarterly results can be volatile is not fun. Thus, the desire by Michael Dell to go private.
While there are a number of challenges that Dell must address, there are two that will make or break the success of the new corporate strategy. The vendor must either exit the end-user computing market or once again become a market leader. It is lacking products in the key current and future end-user markets and it cannot regain its position with just PC solutions to hawk. Secondly, Dell has not been able to transition from a culture of transaction selling to one of relationship sales. If the vendor is to become one of the top one-stop providers in the commercial space, it will have to invest in customer relationship management. This is a massive cultural change that goes to the core of the company. HP has struggled with the clash of this cultural divide since it acquired Compaq in 2002. IBM Corp. took more than 10 years to change its culture. The underlying question will be whether or not CEO Dell, by trade a transactional salesman, can lead the culture shift to succeed with its new corporate vision.
In addition to the above challenges, there are a number of other key issues to be resolved. IT executive relationships with Dell depend on how these shake out.
Assets. Dell will need to decide which assets it has today are worth keeping and which are to be shed. In strong customer relationship management organizations, people are a primary asset. Will Dell address this? Additionally, once it has its strategic vision in place, what additional acquisitions are needed to complete the puzzle? Will the new Dell have the funds to acquire the companies it needs or will the buyout end up choking the firm's ability to compete effectively? Dell recently moved into the equipment leasing space. Will it have the wherewithal to remain?
Business Model. What will Dell's new business model be? It will have to compete with HP, IBM and Oracle Corp. – all of whom are innovators, bring more than commodity products and services to the table, and want to own the complete business relationship with their customers. Each has a different business model. Where will the new Dell position itself?
Business Partners and Channels. Dell will have to re-evaluate how it works with business partners and uses various sales and distribution channels. Dell does have a cloud presence but can it leverage it the way Apple Inc. or Google Inc. do? Can it be a full service provider and still utilize business partners and channels effectively? Without strong business partners and channels Dell will not be able to compete effectively.
Microsoft. Microsoft did not become an owner but a lender to Dell. This will cost the company more than just money. Will it restrict the vendor from providing certain products or solutions?
Processes. Dell needs to revamp its development, operations, and sales processes to be fully integrated and customer relationship based. The customer must come first; not the products or services. This will be a long-term change, which may be agonizing at times.
Technology. Today Dell assembles some products and has the intellectual property (IP) for those products and services that the company acquired. Can it leverage the IP and become recognized as an innovator or will the IP assets wither and the talent depart? Over the past year Dell has been bringing on board the resources to take advantage of the assets. Will the new Dell continue down the same path? If Dell stays in the end-user computing space, will it be able to figure out how to do mobility and social (key components to staying competitive)? If not, will it bite the bullet and exit the business?
The company was at one time the leader in the PC arena. Then it became one of the top players. Now it wants to be a leader in the full-service enterprise space where it is not a top player and is losing momentum.
RFG POV: Dell has a long, tough transformation ahead. By going private it will no longer have to worry about the stock market price but will still have to answer to investors. RFG does not expect the company to pull out of any markets in the near term – although the printing and peripherals business is exposed – but a number of the executives and employees whose visions are out of sync with new direction will depart. In the full-service enterprise space Dell will have to be more than a low-cost provider. It must become a hardware, software, and services innovator, determine its positioning vis-à-vis competitors, make additional acquisitions to fill in the gaps, and spend time and resources building relationships that may not yield near-term revenues. Whether or not the stakeholders will allow the company to spend enough money and time to make the conversion is an open question. The fallback position may be to go back to being a low-cost or custom commodity provider to the commercial market. Moreover, Dell will have to invest in a new end-user computing model, watch its market share shrivel, or quit the space. One thing is for sure – it cannot be all things to all players and must pick its choices carefully. Dell must articulate its strategy to business partners, customers, and employees over the next three to six months or loyalty may falter. In any event, IT executives should expect Dell to provide support and a smooth transition for businesses that are divested, restructured, or sold. IT executives desirous of using Dell as a strategic provider should continue to work closely with Dell, keep abreast of its strategy and roadmaps and factor the knowledge into the corporate decision-making process. Additionally, IT executives should not be surprised or concerned to find the company fails to make the short-list of candidates. There are plenty of options these days.