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Dell exec tells El Reg: Privatization has fired up 'world's largest startup'

Freedom to pursue 'hunches' will make make the next few years 'a scream'

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'You get to play the hunch ... you don't need to spend two months analyzing the market'

Proving the viability of every idea before it's green-lighted has a distinct CYA advantage, but it can stifle new, unproven, but potentially breakthrough ideas. "I think what that does is that it makes it a little bit harder to let people play the hunch," Carroll told us.

Such hunches, he said, reveal themselves when you're close to your customers – closer that any investor will ever be. And now that Dell has been freed from Wall Street oversight, those hunches can be acted upon with far more freedom.

"We hear things that customers say they want," Carroll said, "and the biggest difference has been is that we're getting to play the hunch. And when you get to play the hunch, then you don't need to spend two more months analyzing the market or whatever else it is. It means that you're going to get time-to-market on solutions."

Carroll's responsibilities include helping to define how Dell will increase its penetration into such lively markets as HPC, big-data analytics, and the cloud; complex markets in which there are many interconnected, interdependent moving parts. Since these market are going through many changes, the ability to make quick decisions is critical.

"We couldn't have picked a better time to get liberated," he said. "Because there's so many open-source vendors, and emerging vendors, and venture funds, and everything else, the only way to be successful in this is that you're going to have to play a couple of hunches."

The decision-making cycle has changed at Dell to accommodate such hunches, Carroll said. Prior to privatization, one had to complete an entire plan, submit it to management, then wait – and wait – for approval. Now, in some cases, you'll get immediate approval, be provided with support, and told to go for it – and fast.

Sometimes those aforementioned hunches come from above. "Now it is, 'Tim, here's what you need to go do. I'm going to task you to do it, and here's the rough boundaries of it. Put together a plan to go make that happen, knowing that I can guarantee you that some part of it I'm going to be able to help you with, it's just a question of how much'," Carroll said.

Not that every idea is going to be approved. Dell execs still must run the numbers, vet their ideas with the appropriate coworkers, and "just don't be reckless," he said. But decisions can now be made "with a speed that you can't necessarily do when you've got Wall Street as part of the picture."

Some ideas, of course, won't pan out, but Carroll says that with Wall Street off their back, as long as an idea appeared sensible and was given the go-ahead, the cost of failure has lessened – which has given Dell staffers a sense that they can try more things without risking their careers. "If it doesn't play out quite the way that you thought it was going to, you did it for all the right reasons," he said. "I'm not afraid that failure would result in something catastrophic for me."

Don't expect that all these new "hunches" will result in an immediate uptick in Dell's business, however. Even without the drag of Wall Street pressure, things take time. "I think that the real impacts of the privatization, if people are looking for tangible things," he said, "I think the tangible things are probably six to twelve months off."

When we mentioned to him that we had talked with a number of other Dell staffers who appeared not only relieved by the end of the privatization dogfight, but also invigorated, he said that morale in the company was up across the board. "I'm feeding off the energy of the other people who are around," he said. "And I think that's probably fairly hard to find in this space right now."

As we said above, the company that Carroll describes appears to be the company whose workers we've talked with recently. Of course, there's always the chance that our BS detector was on the fritz when we had our sit 'n' chat, but it did appear for all the world that his enthusiasm was genuine.

"Now that we're the world's largest startup, it is awesome to have this focus around, 'Hey guys, we've got two jobs: solve customer problems, and do it in a way that helps Dell grow'," he said.

"I'm excited for the ride," Carroll told us. "It's not too often that you get to live through a positive MBA case study, so I'm looking forward to being a part of it. It's been a really interesting ride for the last eight or nine months, but I think that the next two or three years are going to be a scream." ®

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