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Interview: Dell software chief talks transformation

James Niccolai | April 26, 2013
John Swainson has one of the more challenging jobs in the tech industry right now. As president of Dell's software division, he's charged with sorting through all the software Dell has acquired and organizing it into coherent offerings that can further its effort to become a more profitable, software- and services-driven company.

Q: That's a big paring back.

A: A lot of this was features that were masquerading as products. So things that should never have been products, like utilities, we'd merge back into the performance management product and have a suite instead of trying to sell it separately. Some of it was straight overlap. In storage management, we really did have four data protection products, so now we're going through the technical process of taking the best of each product and putting it together, on a common framework. That's the long hard way to do it but sometimes it's worth it because there's a $200 million revenue stream and it's worth protecting.

Q: Which one wins, the one with the most customers?

A: The one that's the best architected and the most flexible and modern and that has the most features usually wins, because it's the one you can take back to that customer set and make it the upgrade. And you can usually modify it enough so that the upgrade is seamless.

Q: So then you end-of-life those products?

A: Only maybe five of them have been literally end-of-lifed. You converge them, you sell them as packages. They're not discrete products any more, that's the big difference. The reason you don't want to [end of life them] is because in the software industry, all the profitability comes from the tail. You're better off putting it on maintenance. Even though it'll attrition away over time, it'll still be profitable. Exhibit A on this are people like Oracle.

Q: The software industry went through tremendous consolidation recently, what's the state of the ISV market today? Is there a lot of startups and innovation?

A: There are a lot of startups. For a while there weren't. After 2001 there was a real wall, obviously, then there was a bit of a plateau, and then people got distracted and a lot of startup money went to green tech and other things. Now people are coming back, because of cloud and mobile and some of these other areas. There's a lot of VC money going in and a lot of corporate money being spent too. So there's a lot of innovation in the enterprise software space.


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