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Customers seek details on Dell's direction under private ownership

Agam Shah | Feb. 13, 2013
Users will closely watch service and support.

Columbia University's computer science department has purchased hundreds of Dell servers, laptops and desktops. But concerned about Dell's intent to go private, the department is now reconsidering its purchase decisions and is adding other companies to the product procurement mix, said Daisy Nguyen, director of computing research facilities of the Computer Science Department at Columbia.

"The first thing came to my mind when I read the news about Dell going private was that this might affect the quality and support of Dell equipment," Nguyen said. "A big change is happening to the company."

Support is a big consideration in equipment purchases, and Nguyen wants accountability and assurances about Dell's future goals.

"As a department, we would feel more comfortable dealing with a public company," Nguyen said.

Dell's decision to go private will not change Purdue University's plans to purchase equipment from Dell, said Gerry McCartney, chief information officer at the university. Purdue purchases servers and desktops from the company.

Privatization gives Dell more breathing room to map out and execute a coherent long-term strategy, and also to keep up with the fast-changing market in which smartphones, tablets and hybrid laptops are kicking old-school PCs to the curb. The company can also shed assets without answering to the market, McCartney said.

"The thing that changes is that it takes the pressure from them to respond every quarter to what's going to happen," McCartney said.

Dell has been a great supplier, and there's no reason for Purdue to be unhappy, McCartney said.

As Dell moves away from the PC market into servers, networking and storage, there are some questions about whether the PC unit will survive the shakeout. But McCartney said that Dell's PC business is too big to just divest, and if anything, it will likely be sold off. Purdue will continue receiving support, be it from Dell or the company that acquires Dell's PC operations.

"It's a little risky to buy from small-name manufacturers," McCartney said.

The impact of Dell's change in ownership could be felt not by large customers, but by "invisible" users who don't have dedicated Dell support representatives, said David Milman, who runs computer repair firm Rescuecom.

"Even though Dell's PC business still accounts for the lion's share of their revenue, Dell's business model is moving away from PCs," Milman added. "Although HP has helped Dell with their own series of setbacks, it's not going to be enough to win."

Jonathan Martin, an account manager for a printing company in Pennsylvania, said privatization is a good strategy for Dell, but if the company decides to remain in the PC business, it has to step up its customer support.

 

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