10 Questions Dell World Must Answer For Partners

Must-Answer Questions From Dell Partners

After a bitter $24.9 billion battle to go private, a reorg putting a raft of new faces in Dell's executive lineup and recent server share losses to rival Hewlett-Packard, Dell World is shaping up to be a seminal event for the Dell partners hungry to learn what's next for a new Dell in 2014.

Dell World, which kicks off Wednesday in Austin, Texas, is expected to bring together 6,000 participants ranging from hundreds of executives, dozens of partner companies and 500 channel partners, according to Dell. The official agenda, which encompasses cloud computing, big data, security, BYOD and social networking, will likely have to take a back seat to more pressing partner questions.

"It's perfect timing for Dell World. They went private in October, they had a reorg in November, and now they get to answer all their partners' questions at Dell World," said Bob Venero, CEO of Future Tech, a Holbrook, N.Y.-based Dell partner.

Why are recent changes (from going private to an executive reorg) good for partners?

"Michael is going to have to talk to the partner community and put some tangible actions around [his] promise that recent changes are going to be good for the channel," said Sonia St. Charles, CEO of the Davenport Group, a St. Paul, Minn.-based solution provider and partner of Dell, Compellent and EqualLogic. "He is going to have to outline what's different about Dell and what [those] changes mean in the marketplace and for our customers. If Dell can accomplish those two things, Dell World will be a huge success."

"I feel confident Dell is headed in the right direction. Do I feel confident I know where Dell is today? No. But my confidence level is high that next week partners will get a good snapshot of where Dell is today, and we'll get a clear picture of where Dell is headed as a private company," said St. Charles.

What's the impact of Dell's executive shakeup, and what bearing will it have on Dell's commitment to the channel?

Privately Dell partners tell CRN they want to hear from Dell's newly appointed Cheryl Cook (pictured) about how she is going to run Dell's 140,000 channel partners differently than its predecessor Greg Davis. November's executive shakeup also raises questions about Bill Rodrigues, who was named president of Dell North America. Partners are cautiously optimistic that his new oversight of both Dell's Partner Direct and its Dell Direct business unit will elevate channel conflicts.

Channel conflicts have been a reoccurring thorn in the side of Dell partners who gripe that Dell's compensation plan does not push Dell Direct sales to work with the channel.

Will this be Dell's 'year of the channel' or will the role of partners be diminished inside a private Dell with a new executive team?

"The messaging we are hearing from Dell is this is the year of the channel," said John Medaska, vice president of business development and marketing at Vology. "But what they can't tell us is, what are the cultural changes inside Dell that are going to change partners from seeing Dell as a longtime direct sales company?"


What will the rules of engagement be for partners that are now going to be working more closely with Dell Direct sales?

"Nobody is expected to get it right straight out of the gate, but we need a consistent strong message to go to market with. We want to hear about new incentives that keep Dell and its partners profitable. We want clearer dollar value goals and rewards," Vology's Medaska said. "We need a better clarity on the channel ecosystem so we don't find ourselves on the wrong side of a deal with a competitor or Dell Direct."

"Hewlett-Packard, Citrix and Juniper -- these are companies with clear rules of engagement for partners" Medaska said. "With the reorg, some of our assumptions about Dell's channel strategy are just that, assumptions."

How does the change in leadership alter Dell's culture -- if at all?

"How is Dell going to flatten the silos? How is the channel going to change under a streamlined leadership? Changing channel chiefs is a huge statement, but streamlining [direct and indirect] leadership under Rodrigues is an even bigger statement," Medaska said. "I haven't heard Dell's unified message. Dell needs to communicate a really strong strategy at Dell World about how and when deals will break in favor of partners versus Dell Direct."

Other large Dell partners, who asked not to be identified, said they were waiting. "We have explored expanding our partnership with Dell but we have yet to make a decision to do so. We need them to make the move first and see how they want to 'partner' with the channel," an unidentified partner said.

What's on Dell's product road map to keep partners competitive?

"I want to hear what they are doing with R&D. They have done amazing things with Dell PowerEdge VRTX. We want more innovation," said Future Tech's Venero. "We want to hear more about how Dell is going to invest in R&D and innovate and differentiate itself in the market, and help partners differentiate themselves to customers."

Partners told CRN they want to hear about mobility, whether that's devices or pushing mobile services into the back-end infrastructure and data center.

Will Frank Vitagliano, vice president of North America global commercial channels, step up his visibility and role in Dell's channel?

In April, Dell significantly boosted its channel credibility with the addition of 40-year industry veteran Frank Vitagliano (pictured) to its management roster. Now more than a few Dell partners want to know when and if Vitagliano will play a more significant role in the channel.

"Frank will make a difference. He knows how to get stuff done. He's a no-BS kinda guy," said Joe Vaught, CEO of PCPC Direct, a Houston-based solution provider. "I want Frank turned loose."

How will Dell boost its product lineup and move acquisitions and technologies further up the data center food chain into the enterprise's converged infrastructure?

Dell partner GreenPages' CEO Ron Dupler (pictured) said he's looking for Dell to turn "platitudes into specifics" when it comes to moving faster toward a converged infrastructure platform. "Overall, I'm impressed with Dell's innovations built around the PowerEdge VRTX product line. But with a reconstituted Dell that's not worried about Wall Street, how fast are they going to charge into a converged infrastructure platform?"


What's in the product pipeline?

Vology's Medaska said he wants to hear what Dell is doing with R&D. "Dell has done amazing things with storage and data center products. We want more innovation." Medaska said Dell World is an opportunity for Dell to prove it can do more than sell high-volume commodity hardware. "We want to see everything from new Dell SaaS offerings to larger vertical solutions for healthcare and higher-end solutions rather than lower-cost me-too products."

"The pace of innovation is rapid and I expect Dell is working on a lot of initiatives," Dupler said. Partners want to feel confident Dell is out ahead of the competition. "There should be a lot of discussion about Dell in a cloud world and how they are going to take traditional Dell product sets of storage and servers and bring them into the enterprise's back-end converged infrastructure."

How committed is Dell to moving more sales to the channel?

Today the channel represents about $15 billion, or 25 percent, of Dell's nearly $60 billion in annual revenue. Michael Dell (pictured) has said that the percentage of Dell sales going through the channel has the potential to reach as much as 60 percent of the company's commercial sales.

Partners tell CRN that after Dell put both direct and indirect sales under one organization and appointed a relatively unknown newcomer, Cheryl Cook, to replace longtime channel icon Greg Davis, it is difficult to tell whether Dell will pivot toward a direct or indirect sales model.

One longtime Dell partner, who asked not to be identified, said there was "a lot of apprehension on executive moves. Partners are seeing this shakeup as a possible de-emphasis on the channel by Dell. Michael needs to map out its future and start talking channel specifics."