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Customer focus, innovative structure prep EMC for success

Rob Enderle | May 12, 2014
Most tech companies, not surprisingly, focus on engineering. This fosters innovation, yes, but not all of it's necessary. Witness all the firms trying to become cloud service providers. EMC, however, has always put customers first. That approach will help the firm emerge largely unscathed from a changing market.

EMC World is an event unlike most others; the analyst track is mostly Q&A and one-on-ones, offering a level of engagement you don't see from other firms. I maintain that EMC is the only truly customer-focused vendor in its segment — or, for that matter and with the exception of AMD, in the technology segment altogether. Most large tech firms focus on engineering.

This makes EMC a unique beast — and it also leads to decisions and organizational structures that are also unique. For instance, there's a lot of speculation that EMC will eventually launch an effort like Amazon Web Services and/or drop Cisco in the VCE partnership and replace it with Lenovo for servers.

The arguments for both are compelling - but if you understand EMC, they are also unlikely unless EMC changes its current focus and executive team, which is also unlikely.

Focus on Customer Needs, You Won't Build the Next Zune
There are several types of tech companies, but some are much more common than others.

Marketing-focused firms (Steve Jobs' Apple) are very rare, sales-focused firms typically don't survive (though Larry Ellison's Oracle is an exception), competitor-focused firms (Steve Ballmer's Microsoft) often appear lost and, though financial analysts love operations-focused firms (Mark Hurd's HP or Tim Cook's Apple), they eventually require a turnaround.

Meanwhile, engineering-centric firms such as IBM and Google are so common because the industry is up to its armpits with engineers circling the wagons and talking to each other about features and advancements once their firms has matured. This has an advantage, as engineering-focused companies tend to innovate and are more likely to create market-shifting products. However, such firms are also likely to create features and products customers don't want and add complexity they don't need.

A customer focus, common in small companies, is generally lost in big ones. Ballmer once told me it was virtually impossible because the massive number of customers became noise. With analytics, though, this is changing. EMC is the first customer-focused company of its scale I've ever seen, often flipping between a customer and engineering focus as necessary.

Sales, marketing, finance, engineering and customer relationships drive all companies in some way. EMC is no different - though it focuses on fixing known customer problems. It tends to offer less complex products and pricing, to engage with customers' businesses, to step between customers and a problem, regardless of the source.

An engineering-driven company, focusing primarily on products and their features, is far more likely to get frustrated with a customer and move around it. Google's phones and tablets, Microsoft Zune and Surface, and IBM's move into cloud services all indicate an engineering-first mentality.


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