Like any good marketer, Allison Dew kept her closing remarks at Dell Technologies World on Wednesday simple, succinct and unforgettable: “Don’t be a phone ‘ho.”
Yes, you read that correctly.
Dew, the enterprise tech giant’s CMO, drew huge laughs by echoing her fellow panelist in a conference session — musician and entrepreneur Wil.I.AM — who coined the term “phone ‘hos’ and “phone sluts” to describe people who are so smartphone-addicted they can’t engage with everyday life.
All humor aside, the idea that the companies making screens and other essential IT might have adverse effects on the world is a big concern at Dell, Dew said. That doesn’t mean turning into a luddite, she added, but adopting a more nuanced and proactive approach to reducing the risks of IT.
“I think we all need to be pragmatic and responsible optimists,” she said. “I find the topic is often overly simplified, in the media in particular. Technology can be used to do great stuff or it can be used to do terrible stuff. And the reality is the truth is in the middle, and we have to make a conscious decision to steer it towards the great stuff. We (at Dell) feel an enormous responsibility.”
Dew’s positioning of Dell comes at a time when the nearly 35-year-old vendor is once again a public company and trying to ignite interest in products and services to let its customers run their IT on hybrid cloud, improve their storage capabilities and better secure their data. Its key announcements at Dell Technologies World have included the introduction of a Dell EMC SD-WAN Edge powered by VMware, for instance, and a partnership with Microsoft to ease the process of running Dell hardware on the latter’s Azure cloud service.
Dew admitted that while stories of social media usage tend to dominate the headlines compared with Dell’s more enterprise-focused activities, the company’s brand purpose of furthering human progress influences everything it does.
“We think really deeply about how we build responsible technology, from recycling of hardware to taking gold out of motherboards to build better sustainability in the supply chain,” she said.
Within her own department, meanwhile, Dew said she is increasingly conscious about how Dell uses emerging technologies like artificial intelligence to drive interest and engagement with prospects. This not only includes its traditional market of IT decision makers but the consumers who buy its Alienware gaming products.
“We use a lot of machine learning to do targeting, all based on normative data from the past,” she said. “But if we only use the data from the past, we will continue to just target the customers that already buy from us. That potentially perpetuates the stereotype that (Alienware products) are only for guys. We have to think about the data sets that go into our models, and we have the responsibility to have that human and thoughtful governance over what we have a machine do.”
Like many other B2B CMOs, Dew admitted she is also constantly looking at the rise of government regulations designed to protect the way customer information is used, such as the GDPR legislation introduced a year ago in Europe. While GDPR is good for creating better controls, Dew pointed out that California is coming out with its own regulation, as might many other states.
“What I really worry about is not the introduction of regulations and safeguards. It’s a thousand different regulations and safeguards that make it impossible for businesses to work, and frankly make it impossible for productivity gains to continue.”
The panel Dew sat on, which also included a startup founder in the fitness space, was focused on achieving happiness in a digital age, but she suggested “happiness” needs to be considered at a high level versus something that appeals to our sense of self-interest.
“There is too much focus on things that are not a real problem,” she said. “It’s not about delivering your burrito faster, but how do we eradicate illness and poverty and address other social issues? But today it’s too often about the burrito.”