System builders could be the comeback kings

Opinion

System builders could be the comeback kings

There’s nothing like a comeback to cheer the soul. There’s something heartening about witnessing someone who has been knocked down get back up again and come back even stronger. No wonder Business Insider had a short article on the subject of celebrity comebacks, including the likes of Robert Downey Jr, Justin Timberlake, Drew Barrymore and Ben Affleck. Personally, I like a good music comeback where a singer or band returns from years of obscurity to knockout performances in front of ecstatic crowds.

Anyway, on the subject of comebacks, it appears that local system builders are doing a Take That on the IT industry and returning from their exile in the wilderness. According to Andrew Buxton, EMEA channel director at AMD, local system builders are “holding up really well because they are very responsive and are growing with build to order”. And a lot of companies that were in the market a few years ago “are coming back and it is encouraging”.

Now, admittedly, this isn’t a comeback on quite as epic a scale as Take That’s or Johnny Cash’s re-emergence in the 1990s, but it’s encouraging nonetheless, especially at a time when the PC industry as a whole is taking a battering.

One of the arguments seems to be that local system builders are winning where they can customise and order and deliver it quickly to customers which, when you come to think of it, was pretty much the reason why they succeeded the first time around (although price had quite a bit to do with it too).

It’s a decent argument but I’m not getting too carried away and I’m sure most system builders aren’t either. After all, they’ve been here before. And while it’s good that they’re bucking the overall trend of the PC industry, the fact the PC market is declining suggests the long term prospects aren’t something to get too excited about.

Buxton puts forward an interesting counter argument to the prevailing narrative that PC sales are suffering and will continue to suffer at the hands of tablet sales. He believes the desktop market could be helped by the growth in tablet sales because people will start to store the data generated by mobile devices on their PCs. I can see where he’s coming from but wonder if it will apply as widely as he anticipates.

Yes, people will need something to store their data on in the home so they might still need a PC but it’s also likely that tablets will replace notebooks and PCs for many users, increasingly so over time. We’re in the process of a changeover from the PC to the tablet. The PC will never go away, just as the mainframe hasn’t disappeared either, but its influence will diminish.

Funnily enough, that could be good news for local system builders because it could help to even the scales with larger, more well-known PC manufacturers. When tablets displace the PC as the primary IT device, most PC vendors will migrate their focus to tablets too. The PC business will be less important to many of them, indeed fewer of them will probably play in that space. This will leave the way open for local providers with business models suited to supplying a lower volume PC market in a much stronger position.

By the way, I was much taken with Buxton’s description of aging installed PCs that are likely to be refreshed next year. “There are lots of loyal desktops out there that are seven or eight years old that are ready for a rest,” he said. That’s a nice way of putting it but, I don’t think he would be offending anyone’s sensibilities if he’d just told the brutal truth that a lot of those PCs are going to be put down. And there won’t be any comebacks from that.

This was first published in December 2013

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