To do or not to do, user research

With this flippant post title, I shall hold forth and pontificate on two companies in the news recently, Intel and Dell.

Dell’s announcement that they were going to push their printer business in emerging markets in order to make up for lackluster sales in 2005, was accompanied by these words of caution,

The company that seven years ago used its direct-sales business model to capture the No. 1 spot among U.S. computer makers hopes to do the same in India, China, Eastern Europe and Russia.


Rollins, 53, said Dell can expand outside the United States by first targeting large, multinational companies with which it already has relationships, followed by domestic businesses, government agencies, small businesses and finally consumers.

"It’s essentially the same way we’ve done it in every country in the world," he said.

But that approach may be easier said than done … "They actually face challenges in the developing world that they never faced before," Kay said. "In other markets, you have a low level of business trust" that leads people to prefer buying computers from retailers, usually with cash. "That kind of environment disadvantages the direct business model."

Now I won’t make a value judgement here, except link to my previous post and wonder which management consulting firm they use.

In the meantime, Intel’s ethnographic research in emerging markets – hat tip to niblettes for the link – conducted indepth over a number of years, has finally been put to ‘commercial’ use. They recently announced programs to support education in developing nations and launch ‘Community PC’s to help increase the penetration of technology in the most rural areas.

The aptly named Community PC platform was defined by Intel after intensive ethnographic studies in rural India showed that a clear desire for technology access exists in remote rural communities. Unfortunately, weather conditions (heat, dust, humidity) and unreliable power sources can compromise typical PCs used in such environments. 

To address these issues, the Intel-powered Community PC platform was developed to be a fully functional, expandable and shared-access computing solution. It is a highly reliable, manageable system that supports remote diagnostics and control features under low power requirements.

While there are debates on whether this PC is better than the ‘$100 laptop’ etc, I’ve yet to read anyone question their ability to face the challenges inherent in doing business in the developing world. Though some, tend to focus on what’s really important.

Design, as a body of knowledge comprising of systems, methods and tools, that, if applied with competence and distinction, has the power to integrate the insights and incorporate the challenges that one may face in an unknown situation.

Call it design planning, innovation planning, design thinking, ‘pink elephant with blue polka dots’ but it’s more than just form giving, more than just ‘cool‘ – it’s a means of grappling with complex large scale problems, or so I was taught.

My bets are on Intel.

This entry was posted in Business, Design, India/China/Asia. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to To do or not to do, user research

  1. niblettes says:

    If Dell wants to make up for sluggish sales they don’t need to open up new developing markets, they just need to fix their poor quality and abysmal customer service.
    I thought I was so clever in coining the term “Dell Hell” for thier customer service. Shortly thereafter I learns this was actually a fairly common terms. I guess many others before had experienced the Austin-based punishment even Dante couldn’t fathom.

  2. niti bhan says:

    Fix poor quality? abysmal customer service? You mean you want them to become user centered? Sounds like supply orientation as you previously mentioned, doesn’t it?

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