Diving into Intel’s Regional Focus: How is the UK different to the US? What about Brexit?

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In this industry, it’s very easy to fall into a lull that the North American market is blueprint from which every other commercial market is drawn up. In reality, each region and sub-region has its own foibles, from the types of customers in play, budgets customers can spend, and the requirements therein that might be unique to that region. Of course, within Europe there are several sizeable markets that aren’t like the North American market at all, and this year in the UK a lot of talk has been about how Brexit will affect business, supply, and revenue.

This week Intel UK held an open house for media and partners to demonstrate the latest range of Intel devices, mostly derived from Ice Lake notebooks, Project Athena devices, gaming laptops, and super desktop rigs that are sold in the market. Intel also paired that up with a number of presentations going over Intel’s strategy and how it plays out to the local consumer base. From my perspective, given that I’ve been to over a dozen equivalent events driven by the US PR teams, the presentations at this event approached a number of market issues in a very uniquely British way.

Based on my questions after the first few talks, the local PR team offered me some 1-on-1 interview time with one of the keynote speakers, Jeff Kilford. Jeff, having worked at Intel for 25 years, is a key spokesman on local client strategy. His background includes being the Director of Intel’s IT to managing the whole of the Client Computing Group in the UK. His work involves a lot of discussions with Intel’s place in the UK as it relates to consumers and commercial use cases, as well as retailers, OEMs, and local distribution and supply chain.

Dr. Ian Cutress
Senior Editor, AnandTech
Jeff Kilford
Director of UK CCG, Intel

Ian Cutress: So generally for the PC market, you know, between consumer and enterprise and commercial, we’re seeing growth in some areas, particularly gaming, and seeing decreases in others. The industry as a whole has been on this path to encouraging people to update sooner – rather than a five year cycle, let’s move to a three year cycle, because then everyone can use the latest technology and it drives it all forward. When Intel’s numbers come out in this context, it is usually on a global scale. Typically, I’ve held the view that the UK market, while it’s a technical market isn’t necessarily a growing market. How do you see that from a product perspective?

Jeff Kilford: I think what each country has got its own stats. And so we’ll have predicted the total available market broken down its consumer, enterprise, small/medium business and what have you. What we’ve noticed with the UK is that it is quite difficult to estimate what’s going on because of Brexit. That’s a word that should never be mentioned in interviews! But we’ve you know, the commercial market has just been phenomenal. Not only the UK, but in Germany, it has been as well.

So, you know, from our own predictability in terms of what we expect the UK to do with commercial, I think it far exceeded what we anticipated. We talked to folks that deal with Windows 7 to Windows 10 migrations as well, to get a sense of how far through these migrations are as a whole market. It feels like, you know, it’s roughly 50% done. So there’s still quite a lot of air in the balloon. But with Brexit, it has seemed to be a case forcing enterprises to think about purchasing – Brexit actually accelerated some of these discussions.

What we’ve noticed is that the government at some point did talk to businesses to consider Brexit as a chance to lock in prices, if the companies are worried about prices post Brexit. I don’t know if that was directed at the technology industry, but I know some of the technology industry, but it was echoed through the market. We saw quite a lot of activity ahead of Brexit, and so we thought that might be an artificial bubble here. It’s very hard to dictate what’s reported as a Brexit factor or what might noe be. If we were in a situation where it accelerated to the point where only 5% of enterprise needed to migrate to Windows 10, I would be more concerned, as that would indicate a bubble. But we’re not really seeing that, you know, and we’re seeing a lot more work to do.

Ian Cutress: Is Brexit affecting any other parts of Intel UK’s planning and direction?

Jeff Kilford: Not that I see within the confines of my role. We do have people in Intel UK that work within the Resilience First strategy team, which obviously has an infrastructure component. Normally their role is if what would happen if there’s an earthquake, or things like that. Some of their role looks at economic factors, such as a market crash. Preparing for these sorts of events is a multi-discipline effort – that department will have a weather person, the earthquake person, the volcano person, but they’ve also got to know the markets will play, how that effects the supply chain, the energy supply, and so on. I know it’s a think tank of which we like to be part of, because we want to represent the industry and be part of the conversation. From my personal role I don’t encounter the Brexit question much, but it is something we’re looking at internally, as is every other company.

Ian Cutress: On regional security, we see instances now where certain companies do special security for various regions. With silicon vendors, there are special algorithms for cryptography, acceleration hardware and what have you. It’s a sort of decision that would arguably be taken above the level of the UK. With Intel being so in the news recently, regarding security, when it comes specifically to the UK market, is particular security a question over here? How does Intel work at a UK level with partners and companies that we might not necessarily see in the US?

Jeff Kilford: Outside of security, there are things in the UK market that I think are attractive, right, in terms of exploration. Like the Chromebook market – in the UK it is fantastic, and really only the US tends to beat it for sheer numbers. We tend to work very closely with Google on a local level and with retailers to see what we can do as a special UK experience. It’s that kind of environment – With Chromebook we do quite a lot of things that we would expect to resonate really well here, just because it’s the kind of market it is.

On security, we’ve recently had conversations as part of teams with Karen Baxter, the Commander for Cyber Crime here in the UK, and a few others. Those conversations are really interesting, because folks tend to talk about the fact that if you’re concerned about an area of your supply chain, you should federate the risk (create a central hub where everything is checked), or look for features that allow you to gain reassurance. That’s one of the reasons why we run a transparent supply chain at Intel for our partners. In those conversations, we can help our partners with that. There are things we try and put it initially software, then try and pop it into silicon and try and make it as possible at a fundamental level. But those sorts of things are industry wide, not just about the country. This concern is generic, it could happen anywhere.

Ian Cutress: When we normally speak to Intel, it’s a very general discussion around global markets, and we usually speak to the US teams because the US has a big market. They don’t necessarily break it down region-to-region, because they assume every region is just like the US. It’s very easy to go to, say South America, and find a very different portfolio. We see it with Intel partners – they’ll announce 10 SKUs, nine of which will be in the US, three of which will be in Europe, and so we get this disconnect. For example, the Razer Stealth: it’s only just coming to Europe from last year, where it’s been in US seven years.

Jeff Kilford: I run into situations where I’m working with retailers, and they want to know how many devices they can have for the holiday season. I’ve got the Intel playbook, which is great list, and if I’ve learned anything on this job is to then go through each OEM and ask first is it Europe? Yes. Then I ask if it’s coming to the UK, and yes or no, distilling it down. I have found that the retailers are quite powerful in that conversation – they can literally pull some strings, and it if the demand is high, a unit turns up in particularly country. I’ve followed this a few times where I’ve assumed devices will turn up and it just hasn’t happened. If users want certain devices, it helps to mention it to their local retailers.

Ian Cutress: Intel has been honest about the last 12-18 months, with the discussion around the increased demands on its product portfolio, particularly in the enterprise. Has had knock on effects locally to the UK? With Intel focusing on high revenue parts, and given the low end Chromebooks to what you were describing earlier, are there effects of that here in the UK?

Jeff Kilford: I’m in a delightful position of just not being able to talk about suppliers! But from a business perspective, I think the UK has done really well and is still on an upward trajectory. If we look at incrementally year on year, how well the business is doing, it is doing fantastically well. We didn’t really expect it to do so well! What we’re trying to do is just make sure that we’ve got the right products in the market, whatever the demand is. In my role I don’t get visibility into where there would be gaps, or whether would be over or undersupply. Conversely, a lot of that balancing happens in Central America Operations Group. From the UK standpoint, because that’s the market I look after, it’s a great place to be – I’d rather be here than then many other places!

Ian Cutress: With Intel’s product portfolio changing recently, where the generation number is not necessarily synchronised with the architecture of the core, such as with 10th Gen including Cascade Lake, Ice Lake and Comet Lake, has there been a increasing difficulty communicating that to the customer base?

Jeff Kilford: The roadmap always takes quite a lot of communication, especially this year with the U- series products (Whiskey, Amber, Ice, Comet). That was one of the things that we wanted to articulate very clearly, especially in our presentations today. This is why spend so much time starting to talk about Ice Lake, our goal is to put that one put to bed,  so people can understand the new features of Ice Lake. After that point I can talk about Comet Lake without any confusion.

From a roadmap perspective, we stated publicly before that we want the cleaner roadmap, more simplified. But at the same time, we want to service every market, and provide capabilities that everybody is interested in. That’s why we’ve got a long term commitment to the non-graphics desktop processors (known as GT0, or G-T-Zero). Because it does offer a different set of features, system integrators get to do different things as well. We’ll see how it goes over time, but I think we’re doing a better job of servicing more of the market than we have in the past.


ASUSPRO B9450 with Comet Lake

Ian Cutress: Are your partners happy with the product mix, and happy communicating that mix to their audience?

Jeff Kilford: From my perspective, when I chat to my partners, the messaging behind that mix is very much a collaborative message between Intel and others. Part of my job is really around making sure it’s a unified joint message. Let me take the new Intel-based Chromebooks as an example: we’re there with Google, and we think there’s a better experience with the Google Chromebooks because the benchmarks tell us as much. This isn’t necessarily the beachhead for Chromebooks, where some markets see it more of a budget device. But Google understand that, and together we can articulate that performance improvement as well and understand the experience differences. So we want to join together with them to ensure that those folks that are hunting for more performant devices get to see them, and they get the device they want.

Ian Cutress: Earlier today in the presentations we were talking about, from the commercial aspect, being able to predict security threats before they happen. One of the features of the latest generation of processors is machine learning and accelerated AI workloads – can you talk about any aspect internally which is geared towards disallowing potential threats to use those accelerators?

Jeff Kilford: It’s something we’ve talked about in the past. We definitely want to make sure the capabilities of this hardware enforce positive amplification. To that end we’re going to leverage a lot more with the ecosystem and the PhDs that are working with us on AI to ensure those guide rails exist.

Ian Cutress: You’re talking about research and we know Intel does a lot of work in the US with academics. Can you speak to anything Intel is doing locally to the UK?

Jeff Kilford: We’ve got quite a lot going on. One of the things that we’re interested in the moment with education is how to present AI as a discrete discipline. We talked about the fact that in 15 years, the data that we’ve seen implies a large number of the job titles that will exist do not currently yet, due to this new digital revolution. So we’re working very closely with interested parties on making that happen.

We also work in eSports, as well. We have universities offering Esports-related degree programmes, where students are taught about marketing, sponsorship, sports science, background stuff, and more business around eSports – not just having a good time playing their machines! We’re doing the same with AI, because we really do think that’s one of those is going to be an umbrella disciplines, with lots of offshoot careers.

Many thanks to Jeff and his team for their time.

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