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SanDisk has been around for 25 years which is quite a long time for a technology company. Mr. Neill Ewen is SanDisk International’s Director of Marketing and he was around in the UAE for the DISTREE event held in Abu Dhabi last weekend. We got the opportunity to have a quick chat with him about SanDisk and here is what he had to say:

We see a lot of flash based products from SanDisk- is your current portfolio enough keep the business moving forward?

The company, as you know, is predominantly or was predominantly a retail company selling flash storage products for consumers through retailers and e-tailers. Now we’re changing a little bit particularly as we get more into the SSD area, so we now have new divisions that make up a much bigger part of the company than it did a few years ago. Targeting SSD in the enterprise customer, the large data centre is a new division that’s targeting IT businesses which is more of a commercial division. And then of course we have the OEM division which is building our products into all sorts of different devices for some of the leading OEMs in the world.

Do you think that moving forward OEM is going to be a bigger chunk of your business?

I can’t make a comment on OEM but I think the bit that will definitely transform the revenues of SanDisk will be the enterprise segment where the SSDs are going. For sure OEM will continue to be a large chunk of the business but I think we would rather diversify a little bit more into the enterprise space. The company has made a number of acquisitions in the enterprise area because it’s not something that SanDisk has been that strong in before. That’s the bit that you’ll see growing the most.

The retail part of SanDisk is still very successful for the company. I think in terms of regions it’s becoming a mature market in some areas particularly in the imaging area. There aren’t many parts of the imaging segment that are growing. Things like DSLRs would be one good example of something that keeps the imaging business going but it’s mainly around the smart phones and tablets which are fuelling this huge growth. That’s where we have to make sure that we’re focused on.

There’s lots of competition in the enterprise segment when it comes to storage. Mechanical drives have more capacity in general so where do you see opportunities with SSD?

A lot of it is to do with supply and demand, what we would call the inflection point. At what point does an SSD become more competitive to a large data centre in terms of cost per GB or TB. That situation has not arrived yet but it won’t be that many years before we have that inflection point and it suddenly starts to switch over. And we have to make sure that we’re there. I can’t really comment much about the enterprise segment as it’s not really my business but we are hiring experts and acquiring companies that understand that enterprise space a lot more than SanDisk does. We’ve been very dependent on the retail business but we’ve fully identified that SSD is going to be the future and we need to get into that enterprise space.

Where do you see consumer focused heading?

I think there’s still a huge growth potential particularly in some regions. The big growth that we’re now seeing is coming from emerging markets. For example in the African market, it’s almost like they’re bypassing cameras and going straight to phones but they’re going to very competitively priced phones that don’t have a huge amount of memory in them. So obviously our products can come in very useful in those situations. Huge volumes of what we call budget smartphones are beginning to come out of Africa so a huge opportunity exists there.

Don’t you think it will be a challenge to get somebody to spend a couple more dollars more on your product versus the competition?

Well I think that is a challenge and our position is a deliberate one- we are the brand leader. We’re very proud of having a premium brand and we have no intention of lowering prices to compete with any of the lower players- that’s not our strategy. I think the budget phone is a challenge obviously because if we put an expensive memory card in it it suddenly increases the price. But that’s a challenge we have to try and find a way to overcome.

What other areas of consumer are you focusing on?

The one area that we’re looking at at the moment is what we call connected products. We have already launched some of these products in Europe and waiting for certification in some other countries. Products such as the wireless flash drive and the wireless media drive. We want to get into what we call connective memory. So continue to offer people additional storage capacity but at the same time making it a lot easier to share and transfer files.

These are our first two products but I think what we’re trying to do from a broader perspective is drive the whole category. There’s a number of other products that are quite similar to these on the market but I think we’re looking at this strategically. We definitely see the future for a large segment of our business being in this connected area.

We see a huge opportunity in the Middle East particularly in Dubai and Abu Dhabi; the large shopping malls where you have the large consumer electronics retailers selling our products.

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