Women In Tech: A Dive into Dell Technologies’ Project APEX with Dell’s Akanksha Mehrotra – Futurum Tech Webcast Interview Series
In this episode of the Futurum Tech Webcast – Women in Tech series, I’m excited to have a conversation about the trend to everything-as-a-service and end-to-end aaS that we are starting to see a lot of in the marketplace. This is particularly timely because companies of all sizes are finding that IT operations are just too complex, they are having frustrating experiences with the inconsistency between on prem and off prem management and operations, and they are also dealing with the reality of both a global pandemic and a distributed workforce, along with a dearth of skilled tech talent.
I’m joined today by Akanksha Mehrotra, VP of Marketing for Project APEX for Dell Technologies. Our conversation started with a quick mention about some recent research that Dell did around the COVID-19 pandemic and the global impact of a distributed workforce, The Dell Technologies Digital Transformation Index. This research surveyed some 4,300 business leaders from around the globe features insights about the challenges they have in not only serving thousands of employees working from home, but also managing enterprise workloads, applications, services to the cloud, and a pressing need for more agile and more scalable IT infrastructure to serve that distributed workforce. That’s where end-to-end aas” or “everything as a service” plays an important role, which is what Dell Technologies’ Project APEX —and the focus of our conversation today — is all about.
Akanksha shared a little about her background and career, and then we dove into Project APEX, announced this past October at the Dell Technologies World Experience event.
Dell’s Project APEX is the expansion of the consumption-based offering that Dell initially brought to market in 2019 and Akanksha explained that the offering is all about simplifying how Dell Technologies’ customers can consume IT as a service. Here are some key highlights of our conversation:
- APEX is designed to deliver a radically simplified experience, featuring pay-as-you-go and pay-as-you-use options.
- Akanksha explained what she sees as the reason there’s growing interest in as-a-Service offerings for on-prem infrastructure.
- She also explained why Dell Technologies’ is doubling down on as-a-service offerings, which is largely in response to what they see as customer desire for ease and agility, along with the attraction of security, performance, low-latency, and control that you get with an on-prem solution.
- She shared that an additional strategic move here is that Dell Technologies is looking to serve a wider base of customers than only the enterprise, and infrastructure on demand, wherever they need to run their workloads, along with a pay-as-you-go solution, is attractive to a wide range of organizations of all sizes.
Lastly, Akanksha and I we discussed Dell Technologies’ Cloud Console, which is a single web interface that customers can use to navigate their entire IT journeys. Cloud Console will provide the foundation for Dell’s Project APEX, and the solution is meant to unify the company’s as-a-Service and cloud strategies, technology offerings, and go-to-market efforts. APEX aims to provide a consistent as-a-Service experience wherever a company runs its workloads, including on-premises, edge locations and public clouds.
All in all, our conversation was an interesting one and one I think you’ll be interested in if you’re thinking about your organization’s cloud journey, simplifying IT operations, and also exploring Infrastructure-as-a-Service offerings to see how they might benefit you. Dell’s Project APEX is rolling out in beta now and Akanksha provides more information in our interview on what’s ahead on that front.
You can watch the full interview below:
or listen to the audio version here:
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Shelly Kramer: 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. I’m equally excited to have as my guest today Akanksha Mehrotra, the VP of Project APEX Marketing for Dell.
We’re going to 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. 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.
Akanksha Mehrotra: Thank you. Thank you for having me, Shelly. I’m glad to be here.
Shelly Kramer: 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.
Akanksha Mehrotra: Yeah, absolutely. I help 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.
Shelly Kramer: All roads lead to marketing, one way or another, in some way or another. I’m a career marketing brand strategist, and I straddle that career background with being a technology analyst. I think that sometimes that helps me do what I do even more effectively, because it’s great to have all kinds of solutions, but you have to figure out how to effectively market that, bringing them to market the right messaging. All of that is really important.
Akanksha Mehrotra: Yeah. Having a strong technical foundation helps you, right? Same thing with selling. Once you’ve been selling, I think it gives you a perspective that unless you’ve been there, you never truly have.
Shelly Kramer: Absolutely. I get it. So now let’s talk a little bit about 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. 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.
Akanksha Mehrotra: Yeah, yeah. You’re absolutely right, and you’re on the right track. So like you said, Project APEX is our strategy to radically simplify an as a service experience for infrastructure for our customers and our partners. We announced it at Dell Technologies World last October, and it represents both a strategic as well as a transformational shift for us as a company. Our goal is to deliver IT resources to our customers as a service, through a simple and a consistent experience wherever they run their infrastructure, so within their data centers, in the public cloud, or increasingly at the edge. Yeah, in a nutshell, that’s what it’s all about.
Shelly Kramer: 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. So being able to serve customers in that way I think is really important. So you mentioned that APEX delivers, in your word, a radically simplified experience. What are some examples of how you remove that complexity? If you happen to have a customer use case story that you want to throw at me, I’d love to hear that as well.
Akanksha Mehrotra: Yeah, 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 they trying to do? So in a storage context, what type of storage are you looking for? What are your service level requirements? What workloads do you want to run on it? 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 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? Which configuration of this product, setting, et cetera, et cetera?”
So here we’re trying to abstract all of that away from them and instead deliver to a particular outcome that we talk to them about and a service level requirement that they need for their applications. Then we pick the sort of underlying infrastructure that meets that.
Shelly Kramer: Yeah, and the reality of this, I mentioned I’m a strategist. So starting with the goal and letting your trusted vendor partner help you figure out 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 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 can really maximize investment on the spend for this, and I think to me that’s what makes the as a service model so attractive. 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 in a year or two years, you may not need. So I think to me, there’s kind of a safety net there that makes a lot of strategic sense, a lot of business strategic sense.
Akanksha Mehrotra: 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 want to have sort of the expensive cash outlay that’s typically associated with buying technology upfront, not knowing what will happen in three years. I mean, look what happened last year, right? So 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.
Shelly Kramer: Well, I think we all learned a lot. I think 2020 taught us many lessons from a business standpoint of business continuity, a business resilience standpoint, and from a personal standpoint, as we sit, talking from our home offices, right? We’re the personification of a distributed workforce. Yes, I can say that. But I think that in January of 2020, we would have never guessed where we would be. 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. I think, again, those are valuable lessons that we’ve been learning very, very quickly. So I think it’s great that this is a timely offering from Dell, I believe.
This really just kind of hits onto the next thing I was going to talk about, is the growing interest in as a service for on-prem infrastructures. So we know that, now more than ever, this is important. So talk a little bit about what you’re seeing in terms of Dell Technologies customers looking for to make this shift.
Akanksha Mehrotra: 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 home, that they hadn’t, obviously, planned 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 a key theme is this need for agility. We already talked about the need to pay for technology as an operating expense, again. I think with a lot of things, the pandemic has sort of catalyzed, exasperated, accelerated, use your favorite word, trends that were always there, right?
Shelly Kramer: Right.
Akanksha Mehrotra: But I think within living in a sort of cash-constrained environment, now they really want to pay for technologies and operating expense versus paying for it upfront.
Shelly Kramer: Right.
Akanksha Mehrotra: Then finally, and you talk about this, just the complexity that was probably always there in an IT environment, but, again, it sort of has increased that much more. Over the past year, we saw a lot of organizations turn to a public cloud to quickly scale their infrastructure. But then these same customers tell us that it’s not always a good fit for the workloads that they had.
Shelly Kramer: Right.
Akanksha Mehrotra: They want the security, the latency requirements, as well as the performance that on-prem affords them. So managing these two pools of resources in two places adds complexity. Really, this is sort of the sweet spot for 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.
Shelly Kramer: Right.
Akanksha Mehrotra: Their data center, in the public cloud, at the edge, wherever it makes sense. So that’s sort of why it’s growing. You’ve probably seen the data, just like I have, from analysts. Customers are [inaudible] with how they work with their wallets as well.
Shelly Kramer: Yeah. Well, and I think it’s also beyond just simply a wallet issue. I think that specific to technology talent, specific to IT talent, I mean, there’s a dearth of skilled IT laborers out there. So it’s a struggle for organizations to find and recruit and keep those employees. 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 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 that’s an important point.
Akanksha Mehrotra: 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 … We do this in Project APEX, is that we deploy and manage key portions of the tech stack.
Shelly Kramer: Right.
Akanksha Mehrotra: Again, it was always an option before, but now increasingly, customers want us to do it, right?
Shelly Kramer: Right.
Akanksha Mehrotra: Because it helps them. They want us to manage the infrastructure so that they can manage their business and focus on their business.
Shelly Kramer: Right.
Akanksha Mehrotra: That brings a level of simplicity, but then, to your point, it also frees up their resources to focus in other areas that are perhaps directed at growing their business. So that’s another one that I think has … 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.
Shelly Kramer: Right. To me, it’s just all about smart business, and I think that we joked a little bit about marketing or sales or IT. I think complexity spans an organization, regardless of the size of the organization. I think that 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.
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. 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-
Akanksha Mehrotra: Fewer strategic partners, right? So fewer partners with whom you can have that strategic relationship with so that they completely understand your pain points and help you resolve them so that each business [inaudible] can kind of focus on the area that they do best.
Shelly Kramer: So we’re not always reinventing the wheel. The other thing that having an as a service vendor partnership, the benefit to a customer is that that vendor brings all of the experiences that they’ve already had with other customers, who may be all across the board. So they can bring the lessons learned and the time saved and the resources saved to your situation, as opposed to … Again, we need to move away from-
Akanksha Mehrotra: Figure it out one issue at a time, right?
Shelly Kramer: Yeah, and we don’t need to reinvent the wheel.
Akanksha Mehrotra: One at a time.
Shelly Kramer: Absolutely, absolutely. So that brings me to let’s talk about … I mean, to me, it’s a no-brainer offer, but so why is Dell Technologies doubling down on as a service? Obviously, there’s a need.
Akanksha Mehrotra: Yeah. There’s a need. I mean, look, 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 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 us as their vendor to help them kind of with that sort of best of both worlds or build a bridge, if you will. So these are the pain points that Project APEX is designed to address.
Shelly Kramer: 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.
Akanksha Mehrotra: There is. There absolutely is, but before that, you’re right. We’ve done this before for many of our customers, for many years, actually. In fact, if you look, I think in Q3, we said if you look at our recurring revenue, that’s comprised of deferred revenue, amortization, utilities. Well, that’s as a service. It’s a broader category, but these types of models, about $6 billion. I mean, 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 want to scale this to customers of all sizes and capabilities, frankly, right? That’s kind of difference number one. Difference. Number two is we want to dramatically simplify the experience for them, in some cases simple enough to where it can be self-service, because when you are a part of our top 100 accounts, we’ve probably done this for you, in partnership with you, but then, to your point, you also have a different resource profile and a different talent profile within your four walls of your data center. So some of this complexity, you can deal with, right, versus if you are a smaller business or a mid-sized business or one that’s much more distributed, you’re looking for a different experience.
So I think with Project APEX, the offers that you’ll see coming out as part of this, we want to 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. So those are some of the differences this time around, and 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 makes me optimistic that we can build on that strong foundation, but then take it to the next level.
Shelly Kramer: Yeah, I think that’s really cool. I think as consumers, we’re learning to do a lot of things for ourselves. In some ways, we have a preference, and it’s like, “Ugh, I have to call somebody, and I already have to schedule a meeting” or “I have to do something,” as opposed to just being able to navigate to a web interface and do what I need to do. If I need help, maybe there’s a chat, whatever. If I actually need a person, I can get a person, but maybe you don’t need a person, and I think that-
Akanksha Mehrotra: I’m that way. I’ll go to great lengths to not talk to somebody.
Shelly Kramer: I will go to great lengths to not talk. I’m in the communication business, but it’s kind of like the … I’ve been laughing about the grocery checkout at the supermarket. My kids, my teenagers are club volleyball players, and I drop them off at volleyball practice at eight o’clock in the evening. 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, and I’m also a student of human behavior. What I notice is that there are 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 want to sack their own bags. They don’t care.
But I think that’s what’s happening. 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. The grocery store is teaching people to check yourself out, and what we’re teaching people with web interfaces like the Cloud Console offering is that it’s super easy. It’s right here. If you want to do it yourself, it’s here. It’s easy. If you don’t want to, that’s okay, too, because we’re here to support you. But I think we’re seeing a lot of this. So I think that’s kind of a-
Akanksha Mehrotra: That’s a high bar, right? It’s a much higher bar than when it isn’t self-service and you’ve got an army of folks that can help deliver that experience. So I think that’s why it’s both an opportunity for us to make it that simple, to where it can be self-service for our customers, if they so choose.
Shelly Kramer: Well, I think it’s also really attractive, and it’s really attractive to hear that this offering is designed not just at the enterprise level, for customers at the enterprise level, because it really is … 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. This is really kind of a big shift for Dell Technologies. Describe for me what you think this means for the company as a whole.
Akanksha Mehrotra: 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? When you think about it from the viewpoint of I want to 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 how we design and build our products as a service, not product and services separately, but our products as a service, how we deliver those services end-to-end. As I said, 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 it changes things in that kind of flow, if you will, how we evolve our go-to-market, our sales teams, the addition of customer success teams, how they work with each other, how do we work with the customer, those that want to use self-service and those who want to 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. We’re all in. We’re committed. But, again, these are all the things that also makes it very exciting, because there’s aspects of it, if you will, that are new and different, and it’s certainly lots of opportunities for innovation. So you’ll hear more from us at the Dell Technologies World. We talked about how, look, this is going to be a multi-year journey for us.
Shelly Kramer: Right.
Akanksha Mehrotra: We announced a few things in October. You’ll hear more on it from us over our next few 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 the space for a really long time. So I’m optimistic about the opportunity. Yeah.
Shelly Kramer: 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.
Akanksha Mehrotra: Yeah, yeah, and it’s a great question. So we announced the project as a multi-year transformation for us. Then we announced several offers as part of that that are in various stages. So the Cloud Console that I talked about with 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 are 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.
Shelly Kramer: Great, great.
Akanksha Mehrotra: So 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.
Shelly Kramer: 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, we both managed to make it through this webcast without either groups of our children interrupting us.
Akanksha Mehrotra: Yes. They listened to me. I told them, “Between these hours, please don’t come in here.”
Shelly Kramer: We made it. We made it happen. Neither of my dogs managed to have a barkathon. So it’s really a red letter day.
So with that, I think we’re going to 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.
Akanksha Mehrotra: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you to you, and thank you to your listeners.
Shelly Kramer is a Principal Analyst and Founding Partner at Futurum Research. A serial entrepreneur with a technology centric focus, she has worked alongside some of the world’s largest brands to embrace disruption and spur innovation, understand and address the realities of the connected customer, and help navigate the process of digital transformation. She brings 20 years' experience as a brand strategist to her work at Futurum, and has deep experience helping global companies with marketing challenges, GTM strategies, messaging development, and driving strategy and digital transformation for B2B brands across multiple verticals. Shelly's coverage areas include Collaboration/CX/SaaS, platforms, ESG, and Cybersecurity, as well as topics and trends related to the Future of Work, the transformation of the workplace and how people and technology are driving that transformation. A transplanted New Yorker, she has learned to love life in the Midwest, and has firsthand experience that some of the most innovative minds and most successful companies in the world also happen to live in “flyover country.”