Dell exec discusses technology's future

Is the technology industry past its peak? Nope, it's still maturing, declared Kevin Rollins, Dell Inc.'s president and chief operating officer, in a keynote address at the TechXNY show in New York.

"We disagree with the idea that we've entered the twilight of technology," Rollins said.

Still a Kid

Despite more cynical industry assessments, the tech industry is not fully mature--but that may be both good and bad news, Rollins said. To some, mature means stagnant, or slow-growing, but to others, it means confident and stable, he noted. So while Dell believes plenty of innovation and exciting new products are yet to come, Rollins also noted concern that the industry is not as confident as it could be.

To say the IT industry is mature implies that all products have reached maturity, Rollins said. Clearly, certain products and phases of the industry have come of age, but others are yet to even be thought of, he said. Dell's business model is built on the concept that products will continue to evolve, he added.

"Maturation is in the eye of the beholder," Rollins said. The challenge now is to keep growing and maturing while also listening to customers, he said.

The pace of technology growth follows a familiar life cycle, he said. As technology costs drop, more people around the world can participate in technological innovations. That pushes up the pace of innovation, causing costs to go down again, and on from there, Rollins said.

Setting Standards

The move toward standardization and away from proprietary technology will continue to increase the pace of innovation, Rollins said. A standards-based approach breaks down development barriers, and the open standards model encourages more ideas and innovation, he said.

Rollins pointed to several companies that have brought innovations to their respective industries, including EBay Inc., Google Inc., and discount airline JetBlue Airways Corp. Innovation is not always about creating something new, he said, noting that JetBlue has changed the airline industry by offering a better product at a lower cost.

"We've barely scratched the surface of our potential" in the IT industry, Rollins said. He ended by saying it's time to put aside the question of whether the IT industry has reached maturity, and to ask more interesting questions: How do we grow up without growing old? How does the IT industry stay grounded in the real needs of its customers without sacrificing a childish sense of wonder? Answering these questions will help close the gap between the technology industry that exists and the one that will develop, he said.

Product Plans

Rollins did not discuss any specific Dell products, or highlight any plans for future products. In response to audience questions, however, he did touch on 64-bit computing and the future of the desktop PC.

When asked whether Dell plans to offer a 64-bit desktop computer similar to the G5 recently announced by Apple Computer Inc., he said that, for now, server products are the most appropriate place for 64-bit computing. He did call the technology a potential wave of the future for desktops.

He also addressed an audience member who asked him to predict what a desktop PC would look like 30 years from now. The PC is likely to go beyond the role of simply a computing device, and work its way into other aspects of our lives, he said. Already it is becoming more of an entertainment device, and is likely to help run other aspects of our lives. The form will change, but it's impossible to guess what a future PC will look like, he said. Dell does not believe the PC is dead at all, but will continue to evolve, Rollins added.

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