Wednesday, 11 November 2021 12:31

Dell looks to next generation to futureproof Scotland’s tech industry

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General manager with Dell Scotland, Ishbell MacPhail, speaks to Scottish Business News about how her company is futureproofing the country’s IT sector.

In June 2005, Dell set up its first Scottish base in the east end of Glasgow, taking up residence in the former Wills tobacco factory. Since then, the tech giant has acquired Edinburgh-based SecureWorks, and grown its Scottish customer base to more than 2,500 clients looking for its sales and consultancy services – ranging from start-ups and SMEs through to large enterprises.

But despite its size as one of the planet’s largest technology companies, Dell is still focused on how it can improve the areas it works in – both in terms of growing its business even further, and by giving back to the communities surrounding it.

“It’s of paramount, critical importance [for Scotland] to maintain a position on the world stage,” Ishbell explains. “I think every business that is based in Scotland is all about driving economic growth and making us a more prosperous nation, and I think the more self-sufficient we can be in that, the better.”

There are many ways in which Dell aims to help Scotland’s technology sector gain this global recognition. Most recently, this can be seen through its partnerships with other firms, like Dundee and Aberdeen-based datacentre provider brightsolid, expanding its product offering while also supporting growing companies at the same time.

Ishbell is keen to point out that, while Dell is best known for its infrastructure hardware, there are many other sides to its business.

“We’re very, very aware of how a global IT company of our size and scale can use our daily experiences to drive the meaning of the Internet of Things and make that real to the organisations we talk to, and how you truly take data and turn it into something meaningful for an organisation.

“That ultimately stimulates growth and gives them a competitive edge. So we love all of our infrastructure – that’s absolutely our heritage – but our business is much bigger than that.”

Ishbell also gives the example of Dell’s managed security business, SecureWorks, another globally-recognised brand that is continuing to see rapid growth. But as both Dell’s businesses and Scotland’s IT sector become larger and more technical, the firm is also looking further ahead at who they’ll need to employ potentially decades into the future.

“We’re working very closely with the universities in Edinburgh around the course content,” Ishbell explains. “So when we get graduates coming into the marketplace, they actually have all of the skills that match the needs of the industry, which I think is vital.

“Early on we’re identifying what that skills gap might be, and helping to build that and making sure that these graduates are moving into employment after graduation.

“We’ve got a fabulous talent base through the plethora of universities we have on our doorstep and to be able to leverage that young, fresh, creative, innovative talent is really going to play a crucial part in influencing our future. So creating a legacy and helping to stimulate that growth on an ongoing basis is a vital part of why we’re here in Scotland.”

In addition to supporting graduates at university with the skills they need to enter the workforce, Dell also looks to those who are younger in order to encourage them to take an interest in technology from an early age.

“Something that’s really vital for every team member at Dell is about getting engaged in something that comes from the heart,” Ishbell adds. “So we’re very much into supporting local charities and working with local schools into driving that whole agenda around getting young people interested in IT, and particularly young females interested in IT.

“So, as you can imagine, there’s all the way through school, further education, there are many bodies who have that similar interest because we know from an economic growth perspective that this digital world is going to need highly-skilled graduates to come and take those jobs.

“We’re not able to fill the vacancies that exist right now so I think, as a technology company, we absolutely have that responsibility to help grow that talent.”

Dell’s programme includes speaking to primary school children about technology, and helping those in secondary to build up crucial skills for after their education, with lessons on how to build a CV, and inviting them in for work experience.

Although it is not just about the technical side of Dell’s business, as Ishbell explains: “We clearly sponsored the Commonwealth Games last year. The legacy of that and the whole collaboration from Dell, our employees, the wider community, the schoolkids and getting them to meet the athletes, and spending some time driving that whole sport and exercise agenda was a big part of what we did over that two-and-a-half year period leading up to the two-week celebration.”

The company is very supportive of its employees’ charitable efforts, encouraging each team member to support a cause close to their heart. Dell also matches any of their funds raised, pound for pound, doubling the donations given to good causes.

“It’s about recognising who our stakeholders are and being a good corporate citizen, and we do that well in Scotland,” Ishbell adds. “It drives team engagement – that’s what makes employees happy. If employees are happy, customers are happy, and we absolutely believe that and we see the evidence of that.

“You see that in employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction surveys, and the teams that have got the higher engagement in the organisation is because they’re not just working their day job, they’re out there doing other stuff. The guys love working for Dell and that comes across very clearly when they’re talking to customers.”

Ishbell also highlights that diversity and inclusion also play a large role in ensuring that the company remains successful.

“The work we’re doing to ensure we have a very balanced workforce, and that’s not just around gender – although gender is very important – it’s around ethnicity, sexual orientation, ability, environment. It’s about recognising that everyone’s different and how we can tap into that difference to make us a better and strong organisation, and much more reflective of our customer base as well.

“If you think about the things that are maybe critical to our customers, our community and our people, we need to make sure we have got a nice, eclectic team to face up to the external world.”

With a diverse, highly-skilled and enthusiastic team in place, Dell Scotland is set to only grow even further. Last year it introduced a local model for how it services customers, which Ishbell has been leading.

She adds: “What we’re finding is that we are actually building more closer and trusting relationships just by having our people closer to our customers, so our intention is to continue to grow to meet the demand.

“I think we live and work in a very competitive world, so we don’t have to look terribly far to see who we’re getting into fights with, but we absolutely believe that the whole ethos of what Dell is about, is being open and affordable. It’s not about locking customers in to a proprietary technology, it’s about modular and scalable.

“These are things we stand for and that works with a business at any level, regardless of whether it’s an embryonic start-up or a larger corporation, just to have that control of cost and that access to innovation and a point of view locally is very, very important.

“We’re on a growth trajectory across the whole of the UK. We’ve invested very heavily just recently, and we’ve added to our direct sales force by around 30% over the last six to nine months, so that whole intent is to be more present in the marketplace. And that, ultimately, is good for Scotland.”

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