Dell Inc. is one of the tech industry’s most iconic names. In bringing customized, build-to-order computers to the masses, the 30-year-old company was as fundamental to the birth of the PC industry as pioneers like Apple and Microsoft. But with hardware margins declining amid competition from new, low-cost producers from China, founder Michael Dell is leaning in a new direction -- toward software.

Dell said he and his top lieutenants recently reviewed the company’s software unit and found that it represents untapped opportunity. “It’s growing rapidly,” Dell said during an address Wednesday evening at the Council on Foreign Relations in midtown Manhattan. “But we want to make it four times bigger.”

Dell went private last year following a heated proxy battle with maverick investor Carl Icahn. No longer answerable to Wall Street analysts, Dell said his company is freer to invest in areas that might take longer to pay off. “We’re happy to be private,” Dell said.

Though it’s still thought of mainly as a hardware maker, Dell already plays in a number of key software markets. The company produces software that helps big companies manage the shift to cloud computing, a market that’s expected to grow as cloud computing gains steam. It also sells software that helps IT managers deal with the ever-increasing number of mobile devices that ride on their networks.

But the real growth for Dell’s software business lies in two key areas -- security and information management. In an era of almost daily cyberattacks, Dell can expect to see more demand for products around email, client and network security. Meanwhile, information management software has become a hot commodity as businesses look to deal with petabytes of data that come in daily through multiple channels, including the Web, social media and customer contact centers.

“Our business is well beyond the PC,” Dell said. “Data has to be stored, protected and analyzed. ... The big opportunity is turning data into useful insights.” Dell earlier this year acquired StatSoft, a maker of analytics software that can help companies forecast sales trends and predict demand based on a range of data.

Of course, Dell will have plenty of competition in these hot new markets, and it has less experience in business software than companies like Oracle, IBM and Microsoft, all of which are also aggressively eyeing the analytics and information management markets. “Risk-taking for me is pretty natural,” Dell said. “But I don’t jump out of airplanes, I take calculated risks.”