Dell ‘not really a PC company’

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29 February 2012 | 0

Can anyone remember just when the PC became something for companies to be embarrassed about? It seems like you can’t turn around nowadays for a high profile company trying its best to jettison or downplay its presence in the PC market.

Just this week (27 February), Michael Dell, a man who is synonymous, for many, with the PC industry, marked the launch of a new range of servers and services by announcing that Dell was "not really a PC company, it’s an end-to-end IT company". Am I alone in thinking that his choice of words was a little strange? After all if he’d said Dell was "not just a PC company" it would have meant something very different from "not really a PC company".

And let’s not forget, this is the man who started selling upgrade kits for PCs from room 2713 of the Dobie Centre student residential building when he was a pre-med student at the University of Texas in Austin (thanks Wikipedia). Of course, there’s sense in what he says, but even so, it’s still a profound public break with what has, for so long, been the foundation of what Dell is.




He’s not the only one. Last August, HP floated the idea of possibly spinning off or selling its PSG unit. Admittedly, it backtracked within the space of two months or so, but the fact HP was prepared to question the future of its PC business so publicly merely served to emphasise the fact it was no longer perceived to be core to the overall company.

In HP’s case, you could argue it was a case of going back to where it had come from because the company’s rise to number one PC manufacturer in the world had been largely forged on the back of its acquisition of Compaq in 2001. Until that point, it had been an also-ran in the PC market.

So was there something significant in the fact HP raised a very public question over its future in the PC world nearly ten years to the month after the acquisition of Compaq which paved the way for it to become the market leader? The board and then CEO Leo Apothekar must have been fully aware the tenth anniversary of the HP/Compaq deal announcement was coming up on 4 September when they issued their infamous statement on 18 August 2011. As if that wasn’t significant enough, their statement came less than a week after the 30th anniversary of the launch of the first IBM PC on 12 August 1981.

HP and Dell aren’t the only ones. You could argue IBM started the trend when it disposed of its PC business to Lenovo back in 2004. The difference was that IBM managed to make the break successfully and with far less disruption. And assuming that you consider a manufacturer of Macs could ever be labelled a PC company, then Apple, being Apple, has already gone even further by dumping the word "computer" from its name altogether.

Dell’s latest statement isn’t quite as dramatic as HP’s bombshell of last August but the two companies are more or less on the same path where the role the PC plays in their overall business diminishes over time. The challenge they face is managing that decline without upsetting customers, shareholders and Wall Street. Like IBM, HP has it slightly easier than Dell because it has a wider heritage than the PC.

But all this distancing from the PC market puts me in mind of embarrassed relatives shuffling away from a drunken wealthy uncle at the end of a fabulously expensive party he has paid for. Quite a few of them have already decided to be busy when the next invite comes.

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