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Dell promises 'radical,' two-year metamorphosis

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While bashing IBM's services business, Jarvis also found time to expand on Dell's own services push. In case you haven't noticed, Dell and Sun Microsystems have started pulling in quite a bit of services revenue, which must make HP and IBM nervous. Of course, Dell and Sun like to pitch themselves as low-maintenance services providers, as compared to HP and IBM, which want to form long-term marriages with your data centers.

"We're not going to come in and drink your coffee and eat your doughnuts like the other guys," Jarvis said.

How exactly will Dell's services be different? We're still not sure.

Jarvis talked a lot about offering remote management of products and performing "fixed time and fixed price engagements." It sounds like Dell wants to apply its no-frills, no-nonsense model to services, which is probably a win for customers.

Courting the next Michael Dell

According to Jarvis, the legacy dinosaurs are dying off - or at least heading into retirement. This old-man phase-out again opens a chance for Dell to get radical, since it's never had to deal with mainframes or Unix boxes.

"The question is how do we provide a new approach that will be lower cost than maintaining legacy systems," Jarvis said. "There are kids going into IT that are the first generation who have spent their entire lives on the internet. They have no knowledge of the client-server model and have never seen a mainframe. There's a radical change in the whole view of the IT department. These future CIOs don't see IT the way older people see it."

Dell's freshness attack certainly differs from what HP and IBM are selling. HP, for example, has its grand BT agenda where it wants to discuss the ways in which technology adds to a company's competitive position rather than always arguing over ROI and maintenance costs. When customers ask "Does IT Matter?", HP says "Hell, yes."

Jarvis declined our invitation to confront HP's BT plan directly, relying instead on Oracle-style rival bashing.

"HP's biggest problem is that they are not very good when they have to play defense," Jarvis said. "My job is to absolutely make sure HP is forced into playing defense."

Radically the Same

Thus far, we'd say Dell has been less radical than it claims. It added a new processor supplier, simplified its overwhelming web site, added customer support reps and removed unwanted garbage from PCs. Such moves would obviously please most customers, and there's little pride in being obvious.

Dell, however, does have a real chance to impress if it comes through with some true innovation during the two-year transformation period it has set. We'd love to see the company go against the grain and counter the likes of HP, IBM and Sun with well-made, low-cost hardware that offers something unique in the way of, say, software bundling or services.

We're not 100 per cent convinced that Dell knows how to reach this goal just yet. It remains an entity in flux, searching for a new, non-direct identity.

If there's real action behind Jarvis's words, we should see the first examples of Dell's labor in the third and fourth quarters as the Project Hybrid gear begins to reach consumers. Should this gear live up to Dell's own billing, then we are in the midst of a radical change, and we'll happily pat Jarvis on the back. If not . . . . .

No pressure. ®

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