Driving Internal Innovation with AI – Six Five On the Road at Dell Technologies World

By Patrick Moorhead - May 21, 2024

On this episode of the Six Five On the Road, host Patrick Moorhead is joined by Dell’s Jen Felch, CIO & Chief Digital Officer for a conversation on Dell’s strategy for integrating AI and GenAI technologies to drive internal innovation.

Their discussion covers:

  • The evolving roles and responsibilities of a Chief Digital Officer and CIO in today’s tech landscape.
  • Dell’s approach to adopting AI and GenAI within its operations, including the challenges and opportunities.
  • Strategies for addressing scalability and improving data quality in AI implementations.
  • Supporting team members with the necessary learning, training, and skilling for AI and GenAI innovation.

Learn more at Dell.

Watch the video below, and be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel, so you never miss an episode.

Or listen to the audio here:

Disclaimer: The Six Five Webcast is for information and entertainment purposes only. Over the course of this webcast, we may talk about companies that are publicly traded and we may even reference that fact and their equity share price, but please do not take anything that we say as a recommendation about what you should do with your investment dollars. We are not investment advisors and we ask that you do not treat us as such.


Patrick Moorhead: The Six Five is on the road here in Las Vegas, Nevada. We are at Dell Technologies World 2024. It’s great to be back. We’re celebrating Dell’s 40th anniversary. And 10 years ago, I was on the Dell World TV stage here, so it’s kind of an anniversary for me and also for the Six Five. This event has been incredible. I mean, it’s all about AI, obviously, and AI infrastructure, AI PCs, AI software, and AI services. We’ve had some incredible folks that we saw on stage. Bill McDermott from ServiceNow, Jensen also joined Michael Dell on stage. And I got to tell you, I think those three guys actually like to be around each other. It was pretty cool.
What I’ve set a lot on the Six Five, and even my research is that the grand purifier between technology vendors and technology analysts are the customers themselves. And the great news is that our next guest is actually both. Jen Felch runs… She’s the chief digital officer and CIO for Dell, and obviously, she’s carrying both of those. That’s Jen, welcome to the show.

Jen Felch: Gosh, thank you. Thanks for having me.

Patrick Moorhead: Yeah. So it’s been a couple of years since we’ve talked one-on-one. Oh, yeah, with 10,000 people out there. But can you give us an update on your role? It’s chief digital officer and CIO. What does that mean?

Jen Felch: First of all, it’s an honor actually to have this role. And when we think about it, our organization is kind of in three big areas today. One is the operation, the design, and the operation of Dell.com. Dell.com today is probably one of the top five e-commerce sites in the world.

Patrick Moorhead: Right.

Jen Felch: A significant operation that we run for the company. We have what we might think of as our traditional IT role operating all of the systems and processes, supporting every function. And then, an area that I like to think about in this way is actually core platforms. Whether that is our data platform, it is our private cloud, or it’s our AI platform, which we’re talking about quite a bit these days. That’s what it needs to be in the Dell Digital organization is trying to do those things all at the same time.

Patrick Moorhead: I can’t imagine what you’re going through now. I mean, I started my career in 1990 and we were kind of moving from minicomputers to Unix servers, from 3270 controllers to PCs, and then we moved into this internet thing. It changed everything. And then e-commerce, and then Social-Local-Mobile changed so many things. And here we are in this generative AI age here. And I’m curious, how are you approaching this GenAI opportunity inside of Dell? On one hand, you have this massive expense of what you need to actually get done, and then you have this big cultural shift as well in processes and how people get their jobs done.

Jen Felch: Yeah, let’s break it down.

Patrick Moorhead: I know I just asked like 10 questions.

Jen Felch: Yeah, 10 questions. So let’s start with we know that we’re at the beginning of a major architectural shift, in our workloads and our infrastructure, the full stack. We just don’t know exactly where it’s headed. So what we’ve been doing is saying, “Let’s really focus on architectural components, have clear boundaries, leverage open source where we can, and modularize the elements of it.” We call that our AI platform, our AI acceleration platform. And I think it’s really important because it allows us to let different elements progress at different rates, and it gives us some flexibility. So that is really important from the technology side. Then everybody in the world wants to adopt AI, and it’s so easy. It’s accessible to people that may not have thought of themselves as technologists before. They’re now all about GenAI. They’ve tried it at home. They wanted to do it at work.

Patrick Moorhead: Right. I saw it on the app. It worked. Once, I could get recipes and help me on my trip to Spain, so it must be bulletproof and ready for enterprise, right?

Jen Felch: Right. So we’re trying not to crush that in because it often-

Patrick Moorhead: By the way, this is how PC started too. And almost everything that started on the outskirts of IT. And then it was like, “Oh my gosh, we need to get this under control.”

Jen Felch: We’re trying to find that balance of some things we really have to control pretty tightly because it might be around our core IP. Other things, we want to let people experiment. But with Jeff Boudreaux, we did this survey, Jeff Boudreaux and John Rose. We had 900 different ideas of how we could be using GenAI. So we went through, and we actually used Dell Consulting Services to say, “Okay, let’s categorize these things. Where do we see there’s a big value, important things to solve? Where do we think that AI technology is applicable, like high probability of success? And then the last one, where do we think the data is actually ready?” And that is how we narrowed down to probably about 50 use cases that we thought, “This is where we should focus now.” And we’ll keep the rest because we never know how they’ll evolve.

And I think that was really important because we got to focus and get some traction, which comes back to the culture to say, “Okay, we want to let people innovate, but we also need to move enough people to the most important use cases that we solve them.” So that’s kind of fun. I mean, we’ve pulled people from across the company to work on the most important use cases, which really is awesome to see the cross-functional collaboration come back. That’s very startup-like. So it’s fun at a big company to see that spirit come back from the organization.

Patrick Moorhead: Well, and what I really appreciate too, because we’ve seen this, if you clamp down on everything immediately, it’s going to have an outside of your control anyways. And we saw this with smartphones. We saw this with early PCs, a cloud data storage, right?

Jen Felch: Everywhere. Right.

Patrick Moorhead: It’s like having that balance. I think that’s a very mature way to do things. So what were some of the top challenges that you’ve encountered in your GenAI journey that you can share with other enterprises that hopefully they can get some inspiration from you? Maybe learn from you.

Jen Felch: I mean, I would say some of the challenges, probably the biggest challenge is someone said, “It’s pretty easy to get a good model, good results. It takes a lot of effort to get great results.” So just keeping that in mind to say, “Figure out where you can try something and see how good it is and whether or not you’re going to invest further to make it great.”

But it all comes back to really looking at your data. Is your data set up so that it is actually going to train the model that you want to use? And when you look at your data, it comes back to the same things that IT people have been talking about before, which is, “Your process generates data. Your process should be clean to generate good data. And that good data will enable you to create those great models for AI.” So that’s a big lesson learned, where we have nice clean structured data, this is fantastic. Where we don’t, or people are training on unstructured data like, “Well, here’s just a pile of proposals.” They come back and say, “You know what? Maybe we should go with the ones that were successful. Maybe we should just train on the good proposals or the good data.” So that’s probably the biggest lesson learned is just trying to curate the data that you want to use to train what your AI is going to do for the future.

Patrick Moorhead: Right. And it’s interesting, early on, I mean, we learned in the ’80s, even in my ’80s classes, garbage in, garbage out, right?

Jen Felch: Right, the same.

Patrick Moorhead: It seems to be amplified with generative AI. And correct me if I’m wrong, it’s one thing that if you’re trying to get an answer, let’s say out of your ERP system, it’s one thing. But if you’re trying to get a result that combines data from your ERP to your PLM, to your CRM, to your CRM, I mean it’s a whole lot of data mistakes you can make.

Jen Felch: Oh, yeah.

Patrick Moorhead: Or if you don’t get that right, what comes out is not going to be what you thought you were going to get out.

Jen Felch: That kind of comes back to the very first question. These are the two things that come together. Your data, and we’re talking more about horizontal data than vertical data. That’s where the real value is, is these horizontal solutions or applying AI to horizontal solutions. And then who are the experts in your company that can assess that the solution is correct? Does that seem like the right solution or not? And then you’re going back and assessing your model. You’re assessing your data. So it’s kind of an interesting mix of the technology and your process and data, and then the expertise that you have to really validate the models.

Patrick Moorhead: Yes. How do you scale? You don’t know exactly what you’re going to need before you need it. And if you change something in the mix like change a model that you use, make it bigger, make it smaller, realize you have to use three models, how do you scale for that to get what you want to do? Is this, dare I say it, part of it in the public cloud and part of it is on the edge, and in your own data centers?

Jen Felch: Yeah, it is. So it kind of comes back to that premise of saying, “Okay, we really need to focus on the architecture. Do we have…” We call them data products and a catalog. “Structuring your embeddings so that you can actually reuse them so that people can test against different models.” So that’s kind of what I mean when I say really think about the architecture. You may choose to run things in a variety of different places, but you know you’re going to be experimenting. And you know that this industry is evolving very, very quickly, so you kind of don’t want to just keep redoing the same stuff, right?

Patrick Moorhead: Right. So with everybody learning, and it seems like things change every 90 days. At least from my point of view, you’re building the train as you’re running on it. But how do you train people? How do you skill people to operate in this environment? By the way, this was a conversation I think you and I may have had years ago, and here we are having the same conversation, but it seems like it’s going to be amplified because it literally seems to change every 90 days.

Jen Felch: Well, you never stop. As you’re driving productivity improvements, you have to turn that around and reinvest in your team, continuing to invest in them, not only in training but actually to let them get hands-on and explore. Because things are moving so quickly, I think the best way for people to learn is actually hands-on and try it. So you got to… I’m an experiential learner myself, so I guess I highly encourage that.

Patrick Moorhead: Me too.

Jen Felch: Whether it’s hackathons or being on different teams, I think that’s what everybody wants to do. But I think that’s the only way to keep up is you got to be delivering results and then continue learning. And what’s not very typical is you might actually have to redo what you did six months ago because there’s better technology available or a different approach, and that’s going to be okay if you’ve got a good architecture behind you.

Patrick Moorhead: And I think that just reiterates why having the right architecture in place, that you can pull modules in and out and even deploy them wherever you might need to, and whether that’s in a private cloud, whether that’s even in a public cloud on the edge, to have that flexibility to be able to do that.

Jen Felch: Yeah, absolutely.

Patrick Moorhead: Yeah, it’s great how… It’s funny. In some relations, what’s old is new. There’s a lot of the things that I learned even back in the ’80s. It’s like we’re having very similar conversations here. But they are different. They are more complex, and the rate of change is going up. So Jen, thank you so much for spending time with me.

Jen Felch: Yeah. Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.

Patrick Moorhead: And bringing your words of wisdom. I mean, it’s literally, everybody I’ve talked to at the event from Dell, when they talk about drinking our own champagne, it’s like you set out the glasses and made a lot of this champagne to get Dell into the position to do that. So congratulations and just your approach is working.

Jen Felch: Well, I mean, we have a great company. We have great products. We have great services, and so I love to see it all come together.

Patrick Moorhead: Yeah, I’d love to have you on the show again-

Jen Felch: Thank you.

Patrick Moorhead: … in the future to talk about percentage increase, percentage improvements over here and over here. I am just fascinated about that, to hear it from your customers and you.

Jen Felch: Let’s do it.

Patrick Moorhead: From internal data. Love to.

Jen Felch: Let’s do it.

Patrick Moorhead: Thank you.

Jen Felch: Okay, thank you.

Patrick Moorhead: This is Pat Moorhead with Jen Felch from Dell Technologies. Thank you for tuning into all of our coverage for Dell Tech World 2024 here in Las Vegas, Nevada. Check out all of the content from Dell Tech World on there. We appreciate you tuning in. Take care.

Patrick Moorhead
+ posts

Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.