A Dive Into Dell Technologies' Project APEX with Akanksha Mehrotra
(bright upbeat music) Hello and welcome to this episode of the Futurum Tech Webcast. This webcast is part of my Women in Tech Interview Series and I'm excited to have a conversation today about the trend of everything as-a-service, and end-to-end as-a-service that we're starting to see a lot of in the marketplace. Am equally excited to have as my guest today, Akanksha Mehrotra the VP of Project APEX Marketing for Dell. And we're gonna start talking about some research that Dell did around the COVID-19 pandemic, and the global impact of a distributed workforce, and this includes not only serving thousands of employees working from home which is probably a challenge that you and your organization are dealing with but also the challenge of dealing with enterprise workloads, applications, services to the cloud, and of course a pressing need for more agile and more scalable IT infrastructure to serve that distributed workforce. And that's really where end-to-end as-a-service, or everything as-a-service plays an important role. So without further ado, Akanksha welcome, it's great to have you.
Thank you for having me Shelly I'm glad to be here. Absolutely well I'm really looking forward to this conversation. So tell me a little bit about yourself, tell us a little bit about yourself, and your career and kind of the backstory.
Yeah absolutely, I helped lead marketing for Project APEX solutions like you pointed out at Dell Technologies. I came to Dell a long time ago. I'm an electrical engineer by education, I've spent time across a variety of different roles at Dell starting from hardware engineering, to pricing, product line management, pre-sales and somehow found my way into marketing which is where I am now. You know all roads lead to marketing, one way or another. (laughs) In some way another one, I'm a career marketing brand strategist and I straddle that you know, career background with being a technology analyst, and you know I think that sometimes that helps me do what I do even more effectively because you know it's great to have all kinds of solutions but you have to figure out how to effectively market that bringing them to market at the right messaging, all of that very important. Yeah it gives you that, you know having a strong technical foundation helps you, right, same thing that selling, like once you've been selling it just again it gives you a perspective that unless you've been there, you never truly have so.
Absolutely, I get it. So now let's talk a little bit about Project APEX. I know that Project APEX I remember, Project APEX being announced at the Dell Technologies World Experience, and this appears to me to be the expansion of consumption-based offering that Dell initially brought to market in about 2019, which seems like 100 million years ago of course, and it's really all about simplifying how Dell Technologies customers can consume IT as-a-service, am I right? Tell us a little bit more about that.
Yeah you're absolutely right and you're on the right track so like you said Project APEX is our strategy to radically simplify and as-a-service experience for infrastructure for our customers and our partners, we announced it at Dell Technologies World on last October, and it represents both the strategic as well as a transformational shift for us as a company. Our goal with this is to deliver IT resources to our customers as-a-service to a simple and a consistent experience wherever they run their infrastructure, so within their data centers, in the public cloud are increasingly at the edge. Yeah that in a nutshell, that's what it's all about. Yeah well and I think that we know I mean we see this with our clients across the board in every industry, that is a really important thing, and infrastructure needs are not going to get any less complicated to being able to serve customers in that way I think is really important. So you mentioned that APEX delivers you know in your word of radically simplified experience, what are some examples of how you remove that complexity? And if you happen to have you know a customer use case story that you wanna throw at me I'd love to hear that as well. Yeah so I'll answer this maybe in the construct of both some of the offers that'll be part of APEX as well as customer use cases.
So there's several different elements to the simplicity that we're seeking to drive. It starts right from the beginning, so when we have that conversation with the customer about the type of infrastructure they're looking for, we'll simply ask them for the outcomes that they're looking for, right? What are you trying to do so in a storage context what what type of storage you're looking for? what are your service level requirements? What workloads do you want to run on it? And then based on the answers that they give us, we will pick the underlying technology that's best suited to meet that need. Let me contrast that with a conversation, you know on over let's say traditional consumption or more of a product sale there we would ask them those questions but then probably take them down the, well is it this product? And which configuration to this product setting et cetera et cetera, so here we're trying to abstract all of that away from them and instead delivered to a particular outcome that we talked with them out, at a service level requirement that they need for their applications and then we pick the sort of underlying infrastructure that meets that. Yeah and the reality of this you know, I mentioned I'm a strategist so you know starting with the goal and, you know letting your trusted vendor partner, help you figure out, you know how to reach that goal without really having to worry about all the tiny nuances that are involved there I mean I think what today's IT leaders are looking for are you know we have a really complicated job, the more you can as a vendor partner work with us to help make our job less onerous and less complicated, and also how you know you can really maximize investment on the spend for this and I think to me you know that's what makes as-a-service model so attractive it's you know you can scale up you can scale back, you can really be agile and you can really pivot without making huge investments in infrastructure that you know for two years you may not need so I think to me there's kind of a safety net there that makes a lot of business strategic sense.
Well there's definitely simplicity in budget management right? I mean especially in the current environment we're in where customers may be cash constrained they perhaps don't wanna have sort of you know expensive cash outlay that's typically associated with buying technology upfront not knowing what it's gonna happen in three years. I mean look what happened last year, right? (laughs) (indistinct) It has really come to the forefront and being able to pay for technology as a subscription being able to scale as you need it and only pay for what you're using, is another way that customers are asking for and another way of driving simplicity. Well I think we all learned a lot. I think 2020 taught us many lessons from a business standpoint a business continuity, a business resilience standpoint, and from a personal standpoint as you know we sit talking from our home offices, right? You know we're the personification of a distributed workforce yes I can say that. But I think that you know in January of 2020, we would have never guessed.
Yeah. Where we would be and so the lessons that that has taught us is that you need to have a business structure and an infrastructure structure that can serve your business no matter what the circumstances and I think again that you know those are valuable lessons that we've been learning very very quickly and so I think it's great that this is a timely offering from Dell, I believe. And this really just kind of hits on you know the next thing I was gonna talk about is the growing interest as-a-service for on-prem infrastructures.
So you know we know that now more than ever this is important so talk a little bit about what you're seeing as in terms of Dell Technologies customers looking forward to make the shift. Yeah so I mean look we talked about the trends maybe some stats to kind of support those trends so we recently did a study with several of our customers, 89% of the business leaders said they recognize the need for more agile and more scalable it infrastructure, so that they could account for contingencies, like the pandemic driving their entire workforce from home right that they hadn't obviously you know plan for. The same study also said that only 41% of them felt like they had the right technology to respond at the speed that the business needed them to. So clearly key theme is this need for agility. You know we already talked about the need to pay for technology as an operating expense again you know I think with a lot of things the pandemic has sort of catalyze, exasperated, accelerated, you know use your favorite word trends that were always there right? Right? But I think living into the cash constrained environment now they really wanna pay for technologies and operating expense versus you know paying for it upfront.
Right. And then finally and you talk about this just the complexity that was probably always there at an IT environment but again it's become that sort of has increased that much more over the past year we saw a lot of organizations turn to public cloud to quickly scale their infrastructure, but then the same customers tell us that it's not always a good fit for the workloads that they had and they wanted, you know they want the security, the latency requirements, as well as the performance that on-prem affords them, and so managing these two pools of resources in two places adds a complexity. And it really you know this is sort of the sweet spot as-a-service for on-prem infrastructure because it provides you that simple scalable experience that IT organizations desire along with the flexibility to run the workload where it makes sense. Right. Their data center in the public cloud at the edge wherever that it is so you know that sort of why it's growing, you know you've probably seen the data just like I have from analysts and you know customers are agreeing with how they're worth with their wallets. Yeah well and I think it's also beyond just simply a wallet issue I think that you know, specific to IT talent I mean there's a dearth of skilled IT laborers out there and so it's a struggle for organizations to find, and recruit and keep, those employees and so I think that when you know and that I think that also kind of powers the as-a-service offerings that we see across the board across the industry as a whole it's like, you know a trusted vendor partner brings the expertise to the table that I need that I may or may not have, and it allows me to do what I need to do, maybe when I don't quite have the IT team yet that I need or maybe I already have an IT team but they're busy with so many other things so I think to that (indistinct).
To that point exactly one of the things we've noticed and again this is something that was there before but we're seeing more of is, and we do this in Project APEX is that we deploy and manage key portions of the tech stack. Right. Again it was always an option before but now increasingly customers want us to do it right because it helps them you know they want us to manage the infrastructure so that they can manage their business and focus on their business. And that brings a level of simplicity but then to your point it also frees up their resources, you know to focus in other areas that are, you know perhaps directed at growing their business, so that's another one that I think is you know with on-premise service, having the vendor manage the infrastructure for you wherever you need it, it helps offload both the risk as well as the burden, of doing it. Right.
You know it's really to me it's just all about smart business and I think that you know we joked a little bit about marketing, or sales, or IT I think complexity spans an organization, regardless of the size of the organization, and I think that you know in the past it used to be relatively easy to kind of have the expertise that you needed to do to get all the things you needed to do done, but as marketing has become more complicated as IT has become more complicated, as infrastructure has become more complicated, I think it's really difficult to be an expert across all of that and to me again like I know this has nothing to do with my conversation with you and you happen to be with Dell Technologies, the reality of the world today is that smart partnerships, trusted vendors who can really help understand what it is you're trying to accomplish and who can work to get sometimes it's multiple vendor partners working together you know, that's really the path forward for businesses and we're seeing that, I mean we're seeing huge companies partner all the time so I think this is just really kind of-- So fewer strategic partners right? So fewer partners that with whom you can have that strategic relationship right so that completely understand your pain points and help you resolve them. So that each business if you're working kind of focused on the area that they do best. So we're not always reinventing the wheel, you know and the other thing that having an as-a-service vendor partnership the benefit to a customer is that you know that vendor brings all of the experiences that they've already had with other customers who may be you know all across the board and so they can bring the lessons learned, and the time saved, and the resources saved to your situation as opposed to again like we need to move away-- Issue at a time right? And we don't need to reinvent the wheel.
Absolutely, absolutely. So that brings me to you know let's talk about I mean to me it's a no brainer offer but you know so why is Dell Technologies doubling down on as-a-service? Obviously there's a need. Yeah there's a need I mean looking in short, we're responding to customer feedback, we've talked a lot about that feedback already, our customers tell us that IT operations are very complex they want us to help them kind of be decomplexify them, they're looking for an experience that gives them what they love about public cloud, but also what they need in on-premises and they want you know us as their vendor to help them kind of you know with that sort of best of both worlds or build a bridge if you will, and so these are the pain points that Project APEX is designed to address. Yeah, totally makes sense. Absolutely makes sense.
So tell me how you think this is different, than what Dell Technologies has already been doing around as-a-service? Because there is a slight difference I think. There is there absolutely is. but you know before that you're right we've done this before for many of our customers for many years, actually, you know if you look I think in Q3 we said if you look at our recurring revenue, that's comprised of, deferred revenue amortization, utilities, as well as as-a-service so these types of models is a broader category but these types of models about $6 billion or in it's growing at a pretty healthy clip so we've done it for a while, right? I think the difference with Project APEX is that we wanna scale this to customers of all sizes and capabilities frankly right? That's kind of difference number one. Difference number two is we wanna dramatically simplify the experience for them in some cases simple enough to where it could be self service, because when you are you know a part of our top 100 accounts you know we've probably done this for you in partnership with you but then to your point, you also have a different resource profile, a different calling profile that you know within your four walls of your data center, and so some of this complexity you can deal with right? Versus if you are a smaller business or a mid-sized business a one that's much more distributed you're looking for a different experience so I think with Project APEX we're trying to the offers that you will see coming out as part of this we wanna bring it to customers of all sizes, this is what we mean by radical simplification, simple enough to where it can be self-service for the customer, we announced something called the Cloud Console, that they can use over time to make it self service, and so, you know I think those are you know some of the differences this time around and you know combine that with our long leadership in services and supply chain, and scale and innovation, to your point all the things that we've done for a while, it makes me optimistic that you know we can build on that strong foundation but then take it to the next level. Yeah I think that's really cool and I think as consumers you know we're learning to do a lot of things for ourselves and in some ways we have a preference you know and it's like ugh I have to call somebody, and I have to schedule a meeting, or I have to do something as opposed to just being able to navigate to a webinar face and you know do when I need to do if I need help maybe there's a chat whatever you know if I actually need a person, I can get a person but maybe you don't need a person, and I think that-- I am that way I'll go to great lengths to not talk to somebody.
I'll go great lengths to talk to I mean the communicating in business, but you know it's kinda like the I've been laughing about the grocery checkout at the supermarket and my teenagers are club volleyball players and I drop them off at volleyball practice at eight o'clock in the evening and I go next door to a grocery store and I love to shop there because nobody's ever there at eight o'clock at night. So it's awesome I have the place to myself, but I'm also a student of human behavior, and what I noticed is that you know they're like three employees in this gigantic store because what they've done is they have customer-self-checkout, 90% of customers just check themselves out, they don't care, they wanna pack sack their own bags, they don't care, but I think that's what's happening in you know I don't need somebody to do these things for me whether it's at the grocery store, or whether it's doing my IT job, so I think that's really interesting and I think that we're also teaching people, like the grocery store is teaching people to check yourself out, and what we're teaching people with webinar faces like the Cloud Console offering is that it's super easy it's right here, if you wanna do it yourself it's here it's easy and so and if you don't want to that's okay too because we're here to support you but I think that's we're seeing a lot of this so I think that's kind of a good-- That's a high bar right? It's a much higher bar than when you have, you know when in a minute isn't a self-service and you've got an army of folks, that can help deliver on that experience, so I think you know that's why it's both an opportunity for us to make it that simple it can be self service for our customers if they so choose. Well I think it's also really attractive and it's really attracted to here that this offering is designed not just at the enterprise level for customers at the enterprise level so because it really is you know, Dell Technologies has a lot of customers I'm sure or potential customers, who aren't at the enterprise level, so to be able to have this level of service, without being a gigantic company, I think is a really cool opportunity for a lot of organizations out there. So as we wrap this conversation up, I have one final question, you know this is really kind of a big shift, for Dell Technologies and you know, describe for me what you think this means for the company as a whole. Yeah look you're right. I mean that's why I said it's both a strategic as well as a transformational shift for us right? Because it changes you know when you think about it from the viewpoint of I wanna make it a self-service simple experience to meet all of the pain points we talked about, it changes everything end-to-end it changes you know how we design and build our products as-a-service not a product and services separately but our products as-a-service.
Right. How we deliver those services end-to-end as I said you know with some of these offers we'll be managing big portions of the stack everything from that initial deployment to ongoing patching, to decommissioning at the very end, so you know it changes things in that kind of flow if you will. How we evolve our go-to-market, you know our sales teams, the addition of customer success teams how they work with each other, how do we work with the customer? Those that wanna use self service and those who wanna you know work with their sales reps, so it changes a lot of things there's a lot of work that's happening within the company on this, you know we're all in, we're committed but you know again these are all the things that also makes it very exciting, 'Cause it's you know there's aspects of it if you will that are new and different and it certainly lots of opportunities for innovation so you know you'll hear more from us at the Dell Technologies rolling the progress we talked about how look this is gonna be a multi-year journey for us, we announced a few things in October, you know you'll hear more on it from us over our next few, you know events, but at the end of the day, we're building on a strong foundation, we've been there done that in a variety of different ways, we've been a market leader, in this space for a really long time, so I'm optimistic about the opportunity. Yeah.
Well it sounds great so just to clarify can someone go to the Project APEX site right now and buy this service, sign up get more information, where are we in the rollout of this? That's my question. Yeah and it's a great question so we announced the project as a multi-year transformation for us and then we announced several offers as part of that are in various stages so the Cloud Console that I talked about which is that single web interface that customers can use to navigate their sort of entire infrastructure journey aspects of it are in a public preview right now, so customers signing up they're testing it, they're giving us feedback, we're evolving on that feedback. Another offer we announced was Storage as-a-Service. Again it's in various B to C just right now it's expected to be generally available in the first half of this year so-- Great. You know I would say to sort of net it out there in various trial stages and you'll hear more from us later this year and more.
Awesome well I look forward to that and I know that the analyst relations team at Dell Technologies will keep me updated on that. Akanksha, thank you so much for your time today it's been fascinating I love everything about Dell Technologies Project APEX I can't wait to see more about this and see as you roll out and hear what people have to say but most importantly thanks for spending time with me today and look at we both managed to make it through this webcast without either groups of our children interrupting us I mean-- They listened to me I told them between these hours please don't come into my room. (Shelly laughs) We made it. We made it happen and neither of my dogs managed to have a barkathon so it's a really a red-letter day.
so, but that-- Yeah. (Akanksha laughs) I think we're gonna say we've had great luck. Well thank you so much for joining me today, I look forward to talking with you again soon as things develop with Project APEX, and you have a great rest of the day. Thank you to you and thank you to your listeners. (upbeat music)