Dell Evolves Into a Small Business IT Services Provider - Page 2

By Gerry Blackwell
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IT Financing Options

Rounding out Dell’s pitch to SMBs is a range of financing options, an area where it has always been strong, because, as Dithmer said, “Liquidity in small businesses and medium businesses is a huge issue.”

So, does all of this mean Dell should be your small business’s new best friend?

It depends, in part, on how small your business is. Dithmer said Dell is targeting companies with from 10 to 500 employees, with the bulk in the sub-100 range. But the retail solutions, according to Blood, are aimed at those with 10 or more stores, which would seem to indicate a skew more to medium-size companies.

Dell’s Small Business Heroes

Will Dell conquer smaller companies? We asked some of the “SMB heroes” Dell addressed (and feted) at its Take Your Own Path (TYOP) event in December in Austin, Texas.


Pensions First Group, for example, is a UK-based start-up that provides Web-based risk management software to the global $20-trillion defined-pensions industry.

When it was still a small group of 12 entrepreneurs, PensionsFirst went looking for a major league IT partner to first help it figure out how it should build the IT infrastructure needed to run its business, and then help build it.

“We started talking to three [companies],” said chief technology officer Fiona Page. “But it very, very quickly was short-listed down to Dell. They just had by far the most impressive approach to the kinds of problems we were trying to solve.”

As importantly, Dell was respectful of PensionsFirst’s aspirations. “Right from the word go, they treated us the same, gave us the same kind of commitment as if we were a big multinational,” Page said.

Dell provided the consulting PensionsFirst needed to chart its course technologically and opened up its labs in Limerick, Ireland -- facilities mainly designed to help enterprise customers -- to stress test the PensionsFirst proof-of-concept software and proposed Dell-based infrastructure.

Today, Dell provides the hardware in PensionsFirst’s data center as well as also ongoing support and maintenance, including Dell’s proactive IT management services.

The relationship with Dell is not exclusive, but it has been crucial to the company’s success, Page said. “Sometimes [the Dell equipment] goes wrong, sometimes it’s delivered late. But in terms of the service provided, it’s very difficult for us to fault it.”

Since its launch in 2007, PensionsFirst has taken off in the UK. Its customers have a combined total of £30 billion in liability (the amount a pension fund could end up having to pay out to pensioners). It’s in discussions with another 150 companies representing about £150 billion in liabilities. And it recently opened a U.S. office in New York.


Warren Brown, president of Washington, DC-based Cakelove, another of Dell’s SMB heroes, had similar praise for the company. Cakelove is a trendy seven-store chain of artisanal cupcake bakeries in the DC area. Brown, a lawyer by training, launched it five years ago.

He had long been a user of Dell hardware, because of price and perceived reliability. When Dell took a shine to his company and offered him a complete technology makeover in return for public relations support, Brown jumped at the chance.

There has been the odd bump along the way -- a new point of sale (POS) system Dell proposed that couldn’t, in the end, be adapted to Cakelove’s business processes, for example -- but there have also been signal successes, including a cloud-based remote surveillance system, built with gear from Dell partner Digiop Technologies.

The system includes two to three video cameras in every store, with video fed to a cloud-based server. Brown and his managers can arrange multiple feeds on their screens to see what’s going on in the stores. “It’s no substitute for being in the store yourself,” he said, “but it comes a close second.”

The system helps him be sure employees aren’t goofing off, or spending too much time on visits from family and friends, but more importantly, it helps determine when he’s over-staffed and could let employees go home, and when he’s getting dangerously low on cake ingredients -- or has too much.

“It saves time,” Brown said. “It saves payroll. I save myself some trips. And it gives me this kind of intangible sense of security, of reassurance, because I have an eye in the sky.” He figures the system would pay for itself in a year to a year-and-a-half -- if he was paying for it.

Dell acted as general contractor on the project, sourced equipment and software from Digiop and subcontracted the installation work.

So, will Dell conquer small businesses? The answer appears to be a resounding yes, and it has a lot more to offer its conquests than small business notebooks and PCs.

Gerry Blackwell is a freelance technology writer based in London, Canada. Read his blog, AfterByte

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This article was originally published on January 19, 2011
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