A few weeks ago, I was invited on a “red carpet” tour of CDW The funny thing is, I have always thought of CDW as a catalog and warehouse company. It turns out, my idea was a bit off. Sure, they do have online and print “catalogues” but that was so 90’s. They are transforming more into a services company. And I got a behind the scenes look at how the operation has evolved. Oh, and as part of my tour, I received an HP Elite Display e231 monitor – you can see the review below as well.
Located in Vernon Hill, IL, about a 40 minute drive outside of Chicago, CDW is one of the main businesses in the area. Across all of its locations, CDW employees over 6900 people and has a wide variety of customers ranging from individuals to small business to enterprise and government, education and healthcare organizations. In 2013, the company reported $10.7 billion in annual net sales. That’s not too shabby considering the company was started in 1982 by 28-year-old Michael Krasny where his first profit was just $200 on an IBM personal computer he sold via a classified ad in the Chicago Tribune.
Since 1982, CDW has grown in size and expanded its service offering, well beyond the fulfillment of technology devices. It is now a full-service operation that seems to thrive on that “custom solution.”
The CDW Red Carpet Tour
Our tour started with meeting some of the Social Media team. They too have grown in their presence online, often interacting with customers and prospects alike. But honestly, it wasn’t the Social Media side of things that interested me, it was getting the tour of the fulfillment center (aka warehouse) that really interested me.
Unfortunately, we (Tamar Weinberg, Michael Cusanelli, Richard Byrne and yours truly) were not allowed to photograph or film within the facility so I will have to paint a picture with words. Below are some of the highlights of the tour:
- Huge – that is one word to describe the main facility. It’s vast. The concrete walls go up about 2-3 stories with racks of tech equipment stacked high. There are conveyor belts moving merchandise throughout the facility. We walked about 1.5 miles on our tour, all within the facility.
- Inventory – according to our guide, inventory doesn’t stay long in the warehouse. If it is more than 30 days old, it is most likely being housed for a customer. Because technology evolves so quickly, the longer a piece of tech sits on the shelves, the more outdated it becomes.
- Touch-points – CDW has agreements with its various transportation carriers. When a truck arrives, backing into the facility, the carrier doesn’t touch the products coming it, only CDW-employees do. (I was told that carrier drivers really like getting the CDW route because they can just sit back while someone else unloads their trucks.) Once the shipments are unloaded, they are immediately electronically checked-in and categorized. From there, they are distributed throughout the facility. When it comes back to packing up the trucks, again, it’s CDW employees who load the trucks, not the carriers. And the carrier planes wait each day until the CDW trucks arrive at the tarmac at the nearby Chicago O’Hare airport. It is very efficient.
- Customizations – this is a big point that our tour guide drove home during our visit and this is how CDW is becoming much more of a services-oriented company. I could probably write an entire article about some of the custom jobs that CDW has done over time. We saw staging areas where custom solutions were being done for a beauty suppliers with iPad-enabled Point-of-Sale displays. We learned about how the Secret Service had a custom solution for new agent Pelican briefcases where all of the tech was prepared by CDW and placed in the briefcases. Then a Secret Service agent packed a handgun and clip since CDW is not allowed to do anything with firearms. We learned about how some IT packaging bundles, again for the government, were tested in simulated parachute drops to ensure that the cargo would not be damaged. Basically, CDW can do just about any solution.
- Enterprise-ready – one of the impressive points on the tour of the facility was seeing server racks being configured for customers CDW can ship (and store) custom rack configurations, even letting customer remotely connect to the racks to finalize any configurations. Similarly, CDW does imaging for computer or laptop distribution, meaning that a customer can supply a custom software image and CDW pre-loads them on to equipment. CDW can store older versions of hardware as well so that a business can ensure there is no “version creep” of computer models over time.
The second part of our tour was to the “Zoo” – officially called the Technology Experience Center (TEC) in Woodland Falls, Il. In this location, John Dizon, the Operations Technician, talked about where he kept his “caged animals,” specifically, the latest and greatest of rack-able and stack-able technology from a variety of vendors. The TEC is basically like a very high-end demo playroom where customers can come in and see a variety of configurations from rack-cooling solutions, to Uninterrupted Power Supplies (UPS), to storage and server solutions, to Audio/Visual technology.
Within the conference room there are phone systems, thin-client/server solutions, tablets and other devices that customers can truly get hands-on experience with. The TEC is a place where brainstorming and solutions take place. Customers can compare and contrast technology solutions and see how these solutions work in a fully-functional server room.
We wrapped up the 1-day tour with a game at Wrigley Field to watch the Cubs battle the Brewers, all from the comfort of CDW’s private box suite.
The HP Elite Display e231
At one point in the tour, we were asked to select a piece of HP technology for review. The device would be shipped to our homes. From the available options (although I honestly wanted to test out the HP Ultrabooks but they were already taken), I chose an HP Elite Display e231. I filled out a FedEx form and a few days later, the monitor appeared on my doorstep.
This 23-inch, LED backlit monitor is pretty impressive. Not only is the display HD-ready (with appropriate content), it is made for a variety of purposes. The display itself can pivot so that you can have your content shown in horizontal OR vertical formats. For example, if you are a writer and want to display a full page of text at once, the vertical alignment is perfect. And the horizontal format is, obviously, great for multimedia.
There are 3 connection types you can use: VGA, DVI and DisplayPort. There is also a USB connection so that you can both have additional functionality enabled as well as use some of the USB ports on the side of the monitor for additional USB connectivity.
Some quick stats:
- Diagonal display size – 23″
- Display pixel – 0.265 mm
- Viewing angle – 170 degrees horizontal; 160 degrees vertical
- Response time – 5 ms (on/off)
- I/O ports – 3 USB 2.0 (1 upstream; 2 downstream)
- Dimensions (W x D x H) – 21.42 x 2 x 12.95 inches
- Dimensions w/ stand (W x D x H) – 21.42 x 9.54 x 18.5 inches
The native display is 1920 x 1080 and the included HP software allows you to “smartly” assign windows on your screen to pre-defined areas.
The physical display can tilt as well as slide up and down to ensure the optimum viewing angles. And, as I mentioned, it can swivel 360 degrees.
At a price point of approximately $214 retail, this is a good sized-workhorse of a monitor. You may want to get a slightly higher-end model if you want better color resolution, but if you are a writer like me and simply do rudimentary photo-editing, it’s quite good. You can get the HP Elite Display e231 currently at CDW for $207 (and just for kicks, here is an Amazon search for the monitor with a variety of prices).
I found the display to be easy on the eyes and just about the right size for anything. It was wide enough to actually have two windows open side-by-side so if you want to have a document you are writing open and a web browser open, they can easily co-exists in-line.
I truly enjoyed my 1-day trip out to Chicago to meet with the folks from CDW and understand better how they have evolved their business to meet the lightning-fast changes of the technology business.
Disclosure Text: I have a material connection because I received a gift or sample of a product for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was/am not expected to return this item or gift after my review period. Also, CDW paid for my travel, hotel, activities and food during this event. All opinions within this article are my own and not subject to review or edits by CDW or its partners. More information can be found in my About page as well as here.
HTD says: Warehousing is so last decade. CDW shows how services can power IT transformation.