Is Apple Ready for Enterprise? The Debate Continues

Is Apple Ready for Enterprise? The Debate Continues

July 21

Apple and IBM recently announced a joint partnership to create business apps and offer phones and tablets to IBM’s corporate customers. Many pundits have criticized Apple’s somewhat passive if not lackadaisical attitude towards enterprise customers. As a rule, Apple focuses on building products consumers like so much they begin to demand them at work. And lately, when that tactic hasn’t worked, they often bring their own Apple devices to work and expect to be welcomed.

It’s too early to assess how this partnership between Apple and IBM will influence corporate purchasing of Apple products, but it does hint at a change in strategy from both companies.

Apple CEO, Tim Cook, said “We’re good at building a simple experience and in building devices. The kind of deep industry expertise you would need to really transform the enterprise isn’t in our DNA. But it is in IBM’s.” If IBM can build apps that will ease the pain of IT professionals attempting to integrate disparate hardware, it’s probably a win/win.

But many questions remain. How will this affect IT professionals who have a history of standardizing their companies on Microsoft Windows desktops and laptops? As someone who recently bought his first Apple computer, and has experienced the challenges that come with attempting to gently introduce it into Windows environment, I decided to check in with a few friends who manage mixed computing environments.

What I found were IT professionals who supported Apple products reluctantly rather than wholeheartedly.

Among the challenges they shared with me were:

  • Increased support and training costs
  • Networking and file sharing incompatibilities
  • Increased software and licensing costs
  • Securing non-standard hardware
  • Extended repair time (due to Apple’s locked down approach to hardware)

There are many more concerns IT pros face when asked to integrate Macs into a work environment that’s already standardized on Windows, but this covers the concerns I heard most often. And like most challenges, IT tends to roll with the punches and work through the pain points.

When I worked for Microsoft I was issued a standard Lenovo laptop with an approved Windows image. I spent most of my days in Outlook or Excel, so this setup was well-tailored to my work. What I didn’t know at the time was that I could have requested a Mac. Microsoft has a Mac division, and nearly every member of that team ran a Mac. Had I done a little probing around the intranet, I would have discovered the link to order myself Mac.

The proliferation of web services has decreased the number of the software incompatibility issues found in a mixed environment. Employees have had access to OWA (Outlook Web Access) for many years, and Microsoft continues to bring Office to the Mac, giving employees access to the most popular productivity tools. Tools such as Dropbox, Google Apps for Business, and Basecamp make it easy to share information among colleagues.

The most pressing concern I heard from my friends in IT was their unease that they didn’t know enough about Apple hardware to help Mac users when something went wrong. Yet these same people told me that those employees who are approved for Macs, tend to ask fewer questions. As one friend told me, “An Apple fan on a Mac is going to generate fewer support tickets than an Apple fan on Windows.”

With more companies offering the “choice of any computer” as a recruiting tool, the days of strict IT mandated hardware are over at many companies. Go back a few years and it was mostly the creative staff who were gaining approval to use non-standard hardware. But with virtualization technology like Parallels, employees in other departments are requesting Apple hardware.

I don’t want to give the impression that integrating Macs into a Windows dominated shop is trivial because it’s not, and should be approached as such. Standardization provides many benefits such as reduced costs in training and support. Adding a Mac to an office with zero support from IT is a recipe for disaster. But it’s not something to be afraid of given support resources available, including Microsoft.

I’m interested to hear any tips you’ve used to integrate Macs into a Windows shop as well as any resources you’ve found especially helpful.

Photo Credit: Brett Nordquist