Applying Technology to Sell It

By May, Bill | THE JOURNAL RECORD, November 12, 1997 | Go to article overview

Applying Technology to Sell It


May, Bill, THE JOURNAL RECORD


The so-called millennium problem may turn out to be a fizzle rather than a bang -- according to the man who in 1980 turned the computer world on its ear, cutting out the middle man by offering the Dell Personal Computer directly to the customer.

Today, Dell Computer of Austin is ranked as the third-largest PC company in the world and the second-largest in the United States. Chairman and CEO Michael Dell said that's been accomplished by sticking to the company strategy of using advances in technology as a means of both selling and servicing the computer.

Fears about what will happen to computers at the turn of the century have abounded for the past couple of years, with estimates of billions of dollars being spent to correct the problem. Since their development in the mid-1960s, software programmers have designated years with only two digits -- the last two -- as a way to conserve computer memory. Because of this, many people, industries and organizations fear their computers will recognize the year 2000 as 1900, thus setting back databases. But Dell said fixing that problem could be as simple as an upgrade or replacement computer. "Because the replacement cycle is so short, that problem could be handled simply with a replacement computer," he said. "Since 1996 we've manufactured computers that are capable of the change. For computers before that, we have a simple downloadable program on the Internet which will correct it. So, for the majority of businesses, the answer will be either an upgrade or a replacement." Dell and Ted Turner, vice chairman of Timer Warner, were featured speakers Tuesday at the fifth annual Oklahoma Business Conference presented by the University of Oklahoma's Michael F. Price College of Business. During a luncheon ceremony three graduates of the OU School of Business were honored as Arthur Barto Adams Alumni Fellows: Dr. Norman J. Gaither, professor emeritus in the Business Analysis and Research Department at Texas A&M University; Mary Jane Noble of Ardmore and Harold G. Powell, founder and chairman of Harold's Stores. Dell said the Internet can be invaluable as a customer service tool. "We have put all our information online in the same form so that it can be used by different people for different purposes." Information on the company's products and services, designed for those who will market and sell them, has been made available for internal customers who will use these products. "It also made sense for us to use this same information for our external customers to use also," he said. Developing a company Web site to help customer relations and product service is not intended to replace face-to-face or ear-to- ear contact between the company and its customers, Dell said. "Especially our largest customers." When Dell entered the computer business, after dropping out of the University of Texas, he felt that direct marketing was the best way to sell and distribute the product. Now, the company spends $250,000 per year on research and development, including new marketing methods. He's not concerned about Apple's new strategy, announced Monday, to offer direct sales in direct competition with Dell. "They tried it before and quickly pulled out." "What happens, now that they have a dealer network established is that direct sales puts them more in competition with their own dealers," he said. "The dealers won't tolerate this." Direct sales helped the company keep inventory costs low, because it normally has a 12-day turnaround from the time that a product is manufactured until it is shipped to the consumer. "That's as opposed to a 40-day inventory of our competitors," he said. …

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