I had a chance last week to talk with the most secretive group inside Dell. They are kind of like the Q Division in the James Bond movies. These folks are pretty much unique in the industry, in that they build PCs and servers that are highly customized for firms that then place them into unusual solutions.
This is the kind of machine that might go into a unique military vehicle as part of a piece of medical equipment, or in a special Aston Martin with unique weaponry. In addition, this is the group that is connected Dell’s Entrepreneur in Residence, and that job just went to Elizabeth Gore (no relation to Al). I’ll share some insights about this unusual group this week.
I’ll close with my product of the week, which has to be Windows 10, the offering that promises to fix our pain with Windows 8 and likely define Microsoft’s new CEO’s reign.
The Weird Crap Division
This is what I think whenever I speak with this group, because it is like no other. We kind of joke about its method of building PCs becoming the way of the world, but I honestly don’t think we are far back from that as we move to wearable devices.
The kinds of projects it gets involved in are pretty unusual, and they are coupled closely with Dell’s Venture effort, because a lot of new companies have needs that a generic box can’t handle.
What Dell OEM does is sit down with firms that have highly specialized requirements and build a highly specialized PC, workstation or server.
For instance, last week it announced Dell had sold a bunch of new Solaris workstations to Siemens. Solaris is the OS that Sun Microsystems put on its hardware, but Oracle gobbled up Sun and wasn’t interested in the workstation business — once the business that supported Sun — and somehow Dell ended up with this opportunity. Siemens is using these in a variety of projects it has, focused on changing the world.
Medical: Ebola Defense?
Where you see this group most often is in medical equipment. If a specialized piece of medical hardware needs a PC component, Dell works with the equipment builder to design one. The medical equipment builder gets the advantages of a component that has been vetted and supported by Dell — so it isn’t reinventing the wheel — and it then can focus on doing what it knows. This tends to make this equipment vastly cheaper and more reliable than if the PC component were created by folks who couldn’t spell “PC,” which otherwise would be the case.
One of the really interesting projects is in Europe, where a firm has deployed medical checkup stations. These actually look a lot like the high-end pay toilets a lot of cities have. You walk into the automated kiosk after paying your fee, and the system automatically checks you over.
You’d think this system would be particularly useful during the current Ebola outbreak, because it can be deployed in volume, doesn’t require people to operate it, and self-sanitizes between patients. I’m thinking that a bunch of these set up like the X-Ray scanners in airports to scan arriving passengers could be instrumental in keeping some illnesses out of the US. This week I’m thinking that could be rather important.
Michael Dell: Entrepreneur to the UN
Just as Dell is getting its new entrepreneur in residence out of the UN, Michael Dell has been selected to be the Global Advocate for Entrepreneurship. He built his company from pretty much nothing and now is working to help others in emerging countries do the same thing.
I’m thinking that getting more firms to build medical devices like the one above cheaper and faster might be a great first project. (I don’t know about you, but I’m kind of freaked out about the Ebola outbreak, that it has mutated a lot already, and some believe it soon will become airborne).
Looking to the Future
Assuming we survive, as we move to wearable devices — which currently are driven by fashion but likely will increasingly be customized for unique user needs — I think the OEM model that Dell is using could become far more common.
We don’t all want to wear the same thing, and with the advent and spread of 3D printers, I can imagine a future when your PC/tablet/smartphone component is a module that you insert in something you 3D-print in your home, based on a design you created or licensed from the Web.
You also could have PCs that handle home automation and security that are given custom cases in much the same way, so they can be installed invisibly in the home, fitting inside furniture, wall treatments, or even in walls.
In the end, it is very possible that Dell OEM could become the future of personal computing.
Wrapping Up: Wild Card
While much of the Dell OEM group is interesting, with efforts now spanning the globe and tied to equipment that protects us or helps us stay well, there is another aspect that I think is very interesting.
This group is tied to Dell Ventures and is at the forefront of creating future companies. It is uniquely capable of building matrix or federated enterprises, blending these startups not only with each other but with other Dell properties.
Once that starts moving, the synergy could result in some massive and rapid industry changes. This is a wild card for the company, but if Dell gets it right, it could be an incredible game-changer.
Product of the Week: Windows 10
Sometimes you get a sense early that a product is going to be very well-received. I got a chance last week to see the early version of Windows 10, and it corrected virtually everything that annoyed me with Windows 8.
It is a much better transition from Windows XP/Vista/7, and for those who learned how to use 8, most of what you learned will still work — just faster.
It not only will help eliminate passwords by replacing them with a variety of biometrics options, including face and iris, but also make better use of 4K displays. It will better blend work and personal needs, making both users and IT happier.
Providing the first massively scalable platform with a flexible touch/nontouch interface that will finally change based on how you use it, rather than the application you load, this should be a huge breath of fresh air that the Windows platform has desperately needed.
Microsoft also launched the Windows Insider program, so you can get a free early copy and get a sense for how this works today.
As with all beta products, do take care here, though it so far has had fewer problems than Apple’s last production iOS release. This beta program should help ensure that Microsoft gets it right this time — and as a result, Windows 10 is my product of the week.
By the way, like many, I think we are seeing just the tip of the iceberg here. Windows 10 appears to represent a new way of doing things at Microsoft.