Dell’s Got Your Back(up)

A friend of mine in enterprise sales once told me that “absolutely nothing sells like great personal service.” This is a lesson for any business and has been the mantra of traditional consumer goods over the ages.

Not surprisingly, I’ve noticed a clear trend of consumer electronics companies trying to differentiate their commodity products with great new services. Look no further than Apple, a company that clearly understands this philosophy, as shown by how their iTunes services makes the iPod stand out in the sea of MP3 players.

So, while everyone else in the industry was marveling at the new gadgets at CES last week, I was intrigued by a specific portion of a Dell press release. After talking about faster bandwidth via fiber and new computer products, the company announced that it is moving into personal services, specifically online data migration and backup, a service that makes a lot of sense to me.

Mr. Dell described a new service that will be available later this year in the U.S. — an online data-migration and backup capability. It will enable customers to securely transfer documents, programs, drivers, settings, and other data via a broadband connection to a secure data-storage portal. Customers will be able to have the service preinstalled by Dell during the manufacturing process, alleviating the need to do it themselves after delivery.

“Consumers have repeatedly told us they’d like this type of assistance and we’re answering the call,” Dell added. “Dell is uniquely positioned to offer these personalized services because of our direct model — nobody else can do this the way we can.” Moving all of your files from one computer to another is a pain. And with most people having music, photos and videos on their computers, the days of moving everything on a CD, DVD or memory stick are long gone.

I recently took longer than I would have liked to migrate from one Dell to another and the reason was that I needed to figure out how to migrate my files (about 600MGB). I solved the issue in true high-tech form by installing a personal NAS box built from RedHat Fedora and Samba and then moving my files initially across my home network. I suspect that this is not a solution that would get lots of traction outside of the high-tech world and while consumer-ready NAS devices are available, they can be pricey and intimidating to the average PC user.

On the other hand, if I could send my files to Dell and have them pre-installed on my new Dell computer when it arrived at my home, that would be a great personal service. It could keep consumers from thinking about other computers (like an Apple) and that is exactly the point. There are some unanswered questions that I have about the service, including the amount of storage, how long the storage lives at Dell, privacy issues and, of course, cost. But since Dell has not announced these details, I’ll wait to pass final judgment.

It appears that Dell has thrown down a gauntlet to its competition with this service and I can’t wait to see when others respond with their own great personal services. A few thoughts:

  • Tivo – If you want me to upgrade to the new HD model, how about transferring all of my settings and recorded shows to the new box before it ships to me?
  • TomTom – Want me to upgrade to the latest model GPS? How about uploading all of my favorites and last addresses to the device before it ships to me?
  • Nokia – I’ll get an E62 phone if it comes pre-loaded with all of my data and personalization from my Blackberry 8700c. Can you provide this service?What great personal service do you want from your consumer electronics company? What would make you convert from one device to another?

Allan Leinwand is a venture partner with Panorama Capital and founder of Vyatta. He was also the CTO of Digital Island.

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