Dell: M'sia strategic to company

With 5,000 employees in the country, CIO Susan Sheskey explains Malaysia's role in globalizing Dell's operations and why it's open to "other means" of doing business.

KUALA LUMPUR--Malaysia will play an increasingly strategic role in Dell Computer's bid to globalize its operations, according to the senior executive responsible for the PC maker's global information systems and technology infrastructure.

Susan Sheskey, senior vice president and CIO, Dell

Susan Sheskey, Dell's senior vice president and chief information officer, noted that the company has set up centers of competency at its Penang and Cyberjaya plants to provide application support for all its other manufacturing facilities around the globe.

Dell ramped up its operations in Cyberjaya, the hub of Malaysia's Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC), with a headcount of 600--and growing--IT personnel. In an interview with ZDNet Asia during her visit here Wednesday, Sheskey said the Cyberjaya facility will also act as a command centre to monitor Dell's global operational facilities.

Dell's Penang factory opened in 1995 and currently manufactures almost all its notebook PCs, as well as many of its desktops for the United States and Asian markets.

Sheskey also responded to reports that Dell was evaluating its direct sales model and might consider selling PCs through a reseller channel, confirming that Dell was open to "other means and other methods of doing business".

Q: How much of a competitive advantage is Dell's new strategy of decentralizing its operations across the globe offer?
Sheskey: We are not decentralizing per se, it is more about creating and leveraging the centers of competency in key locations across the globe. So while we have staff in 37 countries, they function as one entity. This allows us to leverage expertise from around the world to provide standard and common solutions.

What role do the Malaysian centers of competency play?
We've had an IT presence in Penang, Malaysia, going back 12 years. We have very talented Malaysian employees who helped build this strong base of technical knowledge for our business. Penang has been very critical for us for many years in terms of their capability, and now we are taking it to a whole new level in Cyberjaya.

We recently opened a center of competency in Cyberjaya which provides global application support for our manufacturing facilities, sales and services and supply chain worldwide. We have also used the Cyberjaya facility to create a center of excellence for the management of our IT operations--a command centre that monitors our global operational facilities. Of over 5,000 employees in Malaysia, we have about 1,000 IT staff in Penang and Cyberjaya and we expect this to grow significantly over time.

What are Dell's core strategies in the development of new technologies and products?
Examples of that would be how we are simplifying technology for our customers. We are thinking about our customers' needs more holistically with integrated solutions that include hardware, software and professional services. This includes capabilities from the desktop to the data center.

Do customer feedback or user preferences heavily influence the development of new products? What role does Dell IdeaStorm play in this regard?
Dell IdeaStorm was launched a quarter ago as a way for Dell to reach out to customers, and allow them to initiate ideas for us to consider. Not only can you surface an idea but you can also vote on the ideas, and influence the direction that we go with our new products.

A perfect example was customer feedback--via Dell IdeaStorm--for us to offer personal computers with Linux preinstalled. In a matter of weeks, we were launching that as a new product offering.

We connect directly with millions of customers everyday. In fourth-quarter, 130 million customers came to our Web site. This gives us a good sense of what customers are looking for in terms of technology, and we use that as a primary feed into product development. On Dell's end, we also have product group individuals who are part of technology forums that have a sense of where the technology is headed. We participate in many industry forums where we help influence the entire industry toward standards-based solutions.

This last fiscal year we invested over US$100 million just focused on improving the overall customer experience. It's a huge investment across all aspects of Dell's business from sales to manufacturing, product development, services and IT. This emphasis on customer experience is central to all we are doing.

According to press reports, your CEO Michael Dell said in a recent memo to staff that Dell's "direct model has been a revolution, but is not a religion". Can you confirm that moving to another sales channel is in the pipeline for Dell?
Michael was quite eloquent in his response to that question. The Dell direct model is fundamental, and the foundation of our very successful business over the last 22 to 23 years. But it does not necessarily mean we are not open to other means and other methods of doing business.

Michael said the direct model is important but it is not a religion. But it's also true that we will always evaluate and consider the best ways that we can do business with our customers.