Top of the pops at Dell Enterprise Forum this year was how the vendor's broadening technology portfolio can be used to maximise efficiency and productivity for less cost through a redesigned infrastructure. Multiple devices and data sources need connectivity, storage, and security - a theme that may well strike a chord with potential customers and partners.
Aongus Hegarty, EMEA president at Dell, said in the keynote: "We designed the Enterprise Forum this year very much around feedback that we have had from customers and partners - the areas they want to hear about. For our customers, the focus is very much about optimising IT. And we're doubling down on our commitment to the partner community."
Cheryl Cook replaced Greg Davis in November as vice president of global channels and alliances at Dell - and at the Enterprise Forum she sang a synergistic tune for channel partners.
"Fundamentally, the spirit behind everything we're doing is really to move globally, consistently, and have consistent programmes as well as reach out to the partner ecosystem," Cook told press at the event.
As Dell as a whole continues to focus on developing fully optimised infrastructures, which involve complex offerings that take what's needed from the storage, networking, and software (including, of course, cloud) portfolio, it is also looking for partners that focus on a vertical, or perhaps have teamed up with SAP, Oracle or another complementary vendor.
"We are realising really accelerated growth in newer parts of our portfolio. This is a natural way for us to try to get the growth and opportunities," she said.
"We are growing faster in our indirect business globally than in the rest of the business, at a rate of about three times the market [growth rate]. It is a fabulous time to be in the partner community."
Deal registration has been rising each quarter, while Dell strives to add tools and enablement, and be seen as easy for the channel to work with, offering access to more capabilities - partly through R&D - and rewarding channel partners for selling across the full range as the company expands and acquires in new areas.
And Dell believes it is now one of only two companies in the world with IP across servers, storage and networking - the other being HP.
"We are becoming a challenger brand in some of these categories, such as networking. Dell is now number three in networking; we have eclipsed Juniper, and the acquisitions we have made are all in the area of virtualisation, giving us the ability to be far more strategic," Cook (pictured, left) said.
Agility across an application-centric infrastructure is key, and global SI, ISV and VAR relationships are critical, as are Dell's relationships with Red Hat, VMware, Oracle, SAP and Microsoft. The key cloud capabilities are around orchestration, management and automation.
"The focus is on having the right environment for the application's needs," Cook added. "Customers continue to want to talk to us about how to be more agile at the application level."
Sales leadership is being reshaped worldwide to be delivered across a common management structure, moving Dell's decision making closer, as it were, to customers - although some localisation will still exist, Cook confirmed.
This means integrating its reseller team at the country level at the same time as increasing partner and customer access to demo kit and facilities.
"We want to have velocity in the sales process," said Cook.
Hitting the right note
The overall melody that Dell executives constructed at this year's Enterprise Forum was one that displayed the company's different parts as working as a whole towards one goal: that of satisfying - and continuing to satisfy - a diverse and demanding corporate customer that must itself be more nimble than ever before to survive.
On a lighter note, the OEM also worked hard to entertain its delegates from all over Europe, with a jazz band playing at breakfast, and several lively parties, held by both Dell and sponsors such as Brocade.
But why is the channel so important these days to Dell? Cook told CRN in an exclusive interview that it's not only the company that has changed in recent years, but the customers themselves.
"Customers are changing the way they buy technology; they really do need more trusted advice," she said.
Dell has today become more focused on "planning and scoping and architecting" the right enterprise offering - but will remain, she noted, committed to its traditional client-based business as well.
Cook, who is based in Texas, has a background in enterprise sales and spent "14 or 15" years at Sun Microsystems, leaving just prior to the Oracle acquisition. She has also held down a role at Nuance. She was in London recently, meeting several resellers and distributors.
"I have always been a big advocate of the channel, because I knew it was a really good growth lever. And believe it or not, it's not more expensive at all [than going direct]. To be honest, as we increase and expand the portfolio, there are just so many conversations our customers want to have with us," says Cook.
Serving and supporting those customers both before and after those conversations would be more difficult - if not impossible - without the channel, in all its various colours, shapes and sizes, to assist, she indicates. That is something that Dell has itself confirmed over the past six years.
And Michael Dell? "He is very engaged in the business, as he always has been. He is a visionary, so I think he will continue to look to position the company strategically to be more innovative."
GLOBAL DELL ECOSYSTEM
■ 140,000+ partners; 15,000 partners acquired through recent buyouts (mostly in software); 4,200+ certified partners; 163 premier partners
■ 909 partners signed up to use Dell's solutions configurator last year
■ 23 per cent increase in certified partners during the 2013 year
■ 40 to 50 per cent of Dell partners sell across the portfolio
■ Four new software competencies to help partners reflect broader focus
Source: Dell Enterprise Forum press conferences, 2014
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