Dell info chief outlines acquisition challenges

Summary:The company's chief information officer Robin Johnson discusses customer concerns about the impact of Dell's recent acquisitions, as well as security and economic austerity

Dell has been going through a busy period of acquisition. In January, in its most recent announcement, the company said it had completed the takeover of security-as-a-service firm SecureWorks.

That purchase followed a string of planned acquisitions, including medical-imaging archive company InSite One and software-as-a-service specialist Boomi.

ZDNet UK caught up with Dell chief information officer Robin Johnson to put to him customer concerns about the impact of these acquisitions — as well as to canvass his views on security and the effects of UK and US austerity on business.

Q: Dell has made a number of recent acquisitions. How much of a challenge is integrating those technologies into Dell?
A: It's about the enterprise efficiency story. I deal with seven major business units, each adding new apps. When new acquisitions come in, their labs are different, and every business is unique. We're trying, as an IT leader, to figure out what drives business models, and acquisitions are really an extension of that. People get wrapped up in integration — it's difficult work, but a simple concept. It's trying to take systems, put them into the portfolio, and rationalise them into the core company.

People get wrapped up in integration. It's trying to take systems, put them into the portfolio, and rationalise them into the core company.

SecureWorks is a security company in the financial services sector. Has Dell talked to customers to gauge any concerns about the acquisition?
I personally haven't been out to customers, but Dell and SecureWorks have been out to their customer base. The big interest in the customer base has been in terms of how we run our own IT shop.

What kinds of concerns do those customers have? I was [previously employed] with a number of banks in the UK and in Holland. A lot of risk is whether companies will still be around — they want to know whether [the service] will still be around in five to seven years' time. Obviously that's not an issue with Dell.

Do banking customers not worry about service disruption due to integration?
Generally the questions aren't around integration. We all know it's hard; we all know it's complex. In the banking community, most organisations are pretty astute to the IT challenge. It's always an intellectual conversation. You don't generally get asked the question, "Will integration increase risks?" Generally, the questions are about whether the product line will still be there. Things like escrow elements get discussed.

Many governments are focused on risks to critical infrastructure through cyberattack at the moment. What are your views on the security of financial organisations?
I think there have been a couple of evolutions. Companies always took security pretty seriously. My career has been in FTSE 100 companies — [Marks and Spencer] in the UK, Ernst & Young, Safeway in the US, Dell. Both reputational risk and doing the right thing have been on the agenda for as long as I've been in the industry — which is 23 years.

In the past five or six years in the UK, with Sarbanes-Oxley and PCI DSS, we've seen much tougher rules centred around the protection of networks, the protection and care of systems, and traceability. I would say there has been a tightening-up and a standardisation of expectation. The Data Protection Act has done the industry good — industry has got better. Companies want data protection — look at the reputational impact on companies that have a leak.

This [concern] is not limited to critical infrastructure. There are a lot of conversations about where data will reside. Networks are at an early stage on a global basis. I think as more of the world uses electronic technologies, there will be...

Topics: Tech Industry


Tom is a technology reporter for, writing about all manner of security and open-source issues.Tom had various jobs after leaving university, including working for a company that hired out computers as props for films and television, and a role turning the entire back catalogue of a publisher into e-books.Tom eventually found tha... Full Bio

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