Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Dell's continuing case study

You can't ask for a better case study, really. The Kodak vs Polaroid debacle, followed by Kodak vs Digital photography, perhaps? Well Dell vs everyone is a good one, anyway, although sometimes it looks like Dell vs Dell. Here's a link for you: Dell, the world's second largest PC vendor, plans to cut costs by $3 billion as it slashes the price of materials and components going into its gadgets and reduces operating expenses, including jobs, the company said Monday. "Now this does not happen overnight," said Lynn Tyson, vice president of investor relations at Dell, on the company's investor blog. "In fact we said we believe it will take three years to achieve an annualized savings of $3 billion. This means that before you adjust for growth, we believe our costs at the end of our fiscal 2011 will be $3 billion lower than at the end of fiscal 2008." Money saved from the cost reductions will be invested back into the business and used to improve profitability, Tyson said.

Now they are saying that they will cut some labour out of the business, which is a common way to cut costs. And they will cut out a PC production line - apparently they misjudged the size and timing of the switch to notebooks, although how they could do that is beyond me. Perhaps more worrying is that they plan to "seek savings in all areas, from design, manufacturing, logistics, materials, and operating expenses", and that they "may also sell or spin off...Dell Financial Services".

For a company that started out with a claimed innovative means of assembling PCs "to order" via super-cheap phone and on-line distribution, it's worrying that incremental review of operational costs is not embedded into the company ethos. After all, that's where they started. Pulling together reasonable quality components from competing suppliers in a just-in-time assembly process that met the individual needs of consumers, without the added overheads that the big players had built in. Oh dear. Maybe they became fat and lazy too?

Well if if needs to be knifed, so be it. As long as quality is maintained, at least where it is now, I mean. Any less and the compromises will peek through just a bit too clearly. But hiving off the finance arm? Is this a reflection of recent loss of focus on core competence? Or are they bleeding so badly that they need to convert assets to cash, pronto?

All very interesting to watch as this case study unfolds.

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