Michael Dell: Dell EMC Will Lead The New 'Industrial Revolution' Of Data

Live With Michael Dell

Dell Technologies founder and CEO Michael Dell "absolutely" plans to lead what he says is the world's next industrial revolution that will be based on data.

"The challenge is, how do you use that data in real-time to make a better product, a better service, a better outcome. Firms are really just beginning this, but it's setting up the foundation for a kind of fourth industrial revolution," said Dell, during Boston College's Chief Executives Club business forum this week in Boston.

The CEO discussed a variety of topics during the forum and in a Q&A with the media around Amazon, benefits of being a private company, Dell's R&D focus areas and new global channel leader Joyce Mullen.

What impact will the increasing amounts of data have on Dell and the IT landscape?

If you think you have a lot of data now, you'll probably have 1,000 times more in five years because the granularity of the data sources is changing. The bandwidth is improving. Think about video data as video goes from 2K to 4K, the frame per second is increasing, and the number of connected smart things. There have been over 100 billion microprocessors sold in the last four years, they're already out there, and most are not connected to anything. So increasingly the cost of these sensors is approaching zero-dollars. So everything is getting connected and intelligent. That's creating an explosion of data. The challenge is, how do you use that data in real-time to make a better product, a better service, a better outcome. Firms are really just beginning this, but it's setting up the foundation for a kind of fourth industrial revolution. It will be based on all of this instrumentation, the data, the artificial intelligence, the connectivity – the data becomes more and more valuable as you get to computational power.

Is your goal to be the company that provides the infrastructure and leads this new industrial revolution?

Absolutely. We are already number one in IT infrastructure in the world. We see a huge build-out in infrastructure because of the intelligence that's embedded in all of these objects. We think edge computing will be many, many times bigger than what you'd think of as a cloud – whether it’s a private cloud or public cloud or hybrid.

David Goulden recently left Dell EMC. How has that affected the EMC business?

Look, whenever you have a combination like [Dell and EMC], some people decide to go onto different things. That's a natural thing and to some extent is expected. But we have tremendous talent inside the organization, great people and I think it's been pretty seamless.

Did you know Goulden was going to leave?

When we put the companies together, David expressed at some point he wanted to go do something else. But, you know, he didn't make the decision until very recently.

Talk about the appointment of Joyce Mullen to lead Dell EMC's global channels leader?

She'll be a great leader for the channel. Partners should be excited to have her on their team … She is a channel champion.

She's grown her career [at Dell] and many in the channel already know her because she was running out OEM business. Joyce is a great executive. She's very excited about the new role. Certainly, our channel continues to be very important to us.

How do you see Dell positioning itself in the cloud landscape of AWS, Microsoft and Google?

We see that the cloud is not a place, it's a way of doing IT, and what we have seen is that there is a boom in edge computing. There's definitely a boom in the distributed core and there's this build-up of the cloud. But what customers have started to realize is, that if they run all to the public cloud, it doesn't work so well. First of all, now the data becomes incredibly expensive. Some workloads might work well in it as well, but when you automate and modernize the infrastructure and you software-defined everything for the workloads – the on-premise systems and systems in co-locations are super efficient. So companies are starting to realize that it's more of a hybrid or multi-cloud world as opposed to everything going one way or another, and that is even before you have this explosion of data at the edge.

What has been your R&D focus areas?

We've invested in the last three years $12.7 billion in R&D … We focus on the big problems that our customers have. If you think about a business today, the role of data and information is really increasing and businesses are being innovated with more and more data and information and starting to realize this is like gold inside their businesses. How do you use this data to now make better decisions and improve your products, services and outcomes in whatever you are doing. The fuel for the Internet of Things, digital transformation, artificial intelligence, machine learning, is the data … That's a big area for us.

Where else is the majority of R&D being spent ?

Another big area is how you automate the infrastructure to run the applications and the data -- sometimes this is called cloud and next-generation automated infrastructure. The third piece of [R&D] is the whole workforce. For people in a company, the thing they experience is the device in front of them. We've actually seen companies now making a pretty big pivot back to the PC because they've figured out that, 'This is actually important for productivity. We want really big screens. We want super thin white notebooks. And by the way, if we don’t have the right tools, we can't retain our people. We can't attract the new people. So how do we [create] an environment that is embracing new technologies and tools of the modern world.' The fourth area for us is security.

What are your security investments?

As you go into this age of smart machines and everything becomes intelligent and connected, you really have to think through the whole challenge of securing all of this because every business is based and set up around trust and assurance. If there's some reduction in that because there's some breach or exposure, it can really bring the whole business into serious question. We've seen some giant companies that have had some real problems there. So we think a lot of about how do we secure the infrastructure and protect against the enormous number of threats out there. That's a challenging problem that all of our customers face.

How has it been going from being the CEO of a public company to a private company?

The big difference in running a public company and what we are now is [we are now] probably a better-controlled company. We have a very small group of shareholders, so we can make decisions quickly and we can also take on risks that we probably wouldn't take on as a public company. If you’re a public company, analysts will be asking, 'What are your earnings per share going to be in the first quarter of next year?' If you want that to be a fairly narrow range, you sort of have to navigate your business to do things to fit within those constraints, and you might not make [long term growth] investments.

Are there any specific products you hope to develop your new Internet of Things division ?

What we're doing is building the foundational platforms, and we have a lot of experience in this. Actually, the division that Joyce Mullen ran before, our OEM division, worked with thousands of companies where they're instrumenting and making things intelligent. That's kind of the foundational layer of IoT. So if your building a smart building, a smart car or a smart bridge – any kind of new object that you want to make it intelligent – you need all kinds of computing power, intelligent sensors, you need gateways, distributed edge computing and we're providing all the hardware, software and security to make that happen. We already got thousands of customers doing this.

Talk about spending more time in Boston since the EMC merger?

About a year ago, [the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation] spun up a team particular focused on Boston as our family is spending a little bit more time here. So we've been a little bit more engaged in the community here, and you'll start to see us do more things here.

What are your thoughts on Boston?

Obviously, it's a great community, has fantastic world-class research universities. We have almost 9,000 people here. So it's become the headquarters for our new data center business which is about a third of the company – a $30-plus billion business -- and the community has been incredibly welcoming.

Have you had any conversation with Amazon's Jeff Bezos about having Amazon's second home in Boston?

I am not privy to their plans for their second location, so I don’t know … Don't know where they're going to go and I haven't really thought about it.