Business

Dell CTO Paul Prince: applications are the key

Paul Prince

Each week we ask chief technology officers and other high-profile tech decision-makers three questions.

This week Paul Prince is answering our questions, the CTO of the Enterprise Product Group at computer maker Dell.

The company, based in Austin, Texas, has 96,000 employees and in its most recent financial year delivered revenue of $52.9bn and net profits of $1.4bn.

What's your biggest technology problem right now?

The biggest technology problem is both a problem and an opportunity. I would call it complexity, both of the technology itself, and of the data.

My team is frankly overwhelmed with information, more than ever before: new technology, new ideas, huge amounts of data from our vendors and customers... the complexity is just enormous, and dealing with that is the biggest challenge.

But that's also an opportunity for a CTO.

If we go to the root cause of this: the internet giving access to more and more information, Moore's Law and the steadily increasing capability of IT systems, and start-ups that constantly bring new value propositions and ideas, it's all making the world very complicated.

And now cloud computing is changing everything again, it is virtualising everything in the world of IT.

The chief information officers of companies want to focus on how IT can add value to the business, they want to spend less time talking about systems and infrastructure equipment.

So they want the systems to be simplified. They don't want to know about hypervisors and how to organise switches etc, they want to outsource complexity, and that's exactly what virtualisation is all about ...

What's the next big tech thing in your industry?

The next big thing is the logical follow-on from the big problem.

Vendors, including Dell, have to provide companies with virtual integrated systems that allow customers flexibility of choice, give them solutions that fit their opportunities, and help them to integrate service providers.

Then there is the complexity of data, which needs to be solved through intelligent data management.

To achieve all this, many IT tasks that once had to be done manually are now being automated. Many IT problems are not even seen by customers, and the time spent on maintenance will go down sharply.

Many companies now have a patchwork of IT systems, a mix of IT resources and legacy systems. That changes the whole IT model and turns IT systems into virtual private clouds [within the company]. And whether they know it or not, many people are already using some of their IT in the public cloud

There's is so much complexity in IT systems, any company that's trying to insource all IT expertise has to have a very large IT budget.

Historically most organisations have silos for their IT systems: there is the hardware group, the server group, the network team, the storage guys, the applications group.

But we need to switch the model to IT generalists, with the application guys becoming the key people.

So companies have to decide on the right mix as to what IT they insource and what they outsource, especially if CIOs want to move upstream and add business value, and don't just want to be the propellerhead guy that buys widgets.

They have to change from being chief information officers to being chief innovation officers.

In the past many IT organisations separated their applications and app development from the IT infrastructure. But now apps can define the infrastructure, for example with Salesforce.com and Amazon. Here the applications are driving the way they build their data centre.

People have to pick the right platform for that, and the applications guys will have a very strong say on what's happening in the IT infrastructure.

Flexibility will be the key. The old way was where a user says "I need an application", and IT says "give us three months to develop and six months or two years to test and deploy". That doesn't work anymore.

What's the biggest technology mistake you've ever made - either at work or in your own life?

My mistake seems pretty clear to me, and I'm getting past it now, but I underestimated the power of social networks.

I was not an early adopter, I underestimated it, I thought it's just for teenagers.

Dell has been very aggressive in this space, we get very high marks, but Paul Prince was behind the curve on social media.

The impact of social media is a totally new way of people communicating with each other, and because of social media's organic grassroots nature companies can have bad news or good news about them spread much more rapidly.

Companies will have to watch their actions more carefully, they will have to be better behaved.

Companies also can use social media to communicate, reach influencers. If companies like Dell can reach them, they can be our advocate on our products, our services, how we treat customers.

Certainly the way companies communicate internally is also changing. We are embracing these social media tools for internal communications. It's already had a pretty dramatic effect on Dell.

I do have a Twitter account, but it's not in my nature to tweet, I'm more active on Facebook.

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