When Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced that the iPhone was ready for enterprise use, the announcement caused a stir that few of the world's iconic businessmen could match. It seemed that everyone from rank-and-file worker-bees to CEOs wanted to get their corporate applications served up on the hot new device. Why? This was Apple-a synonym for awe-inspiring design and coolness-the antithesis to stodgy old corporate technology that burns the eyes red and freezes computers blue.
But some Apple-watchers and evangelist IT practitioners who use Macs for business think the announcement runs deeper than the iPhone itself in its importance. Some believe it could usher in the era of a more enterprise-friendly Apple.
Such a paradigm shift, they argue, could serve as the final ingredient in the boiling cauldron being stirred by employees at the edge of organizations who have become dissatisfied with corporate technology, and who have turned to innovative options in the consumer space to meet their needs.
Some tall hurdles related to converting an enterprise from PCs to Macs, of course, have been around for years. Many corporate IT departments find themselves beholden to decisions made by predecessors during the 1990's, when PCs and the Microsoft Windows operating system seized a chokehold on the corporate market. Companies planned everything from back-end servers to client software based on a Microsoft framework, notes Roger Kay, an analyst with EndPoint Technologies.
Integrating Mac equipment and other Apple products into such an environment requires time and money. "Despite the hairiness of Microsoft software, most companies crave compatibility with it," Kay says. "They have these existing investments that they want to get use of."
But a move to Web-based software, where users need nothing but a browser to access their applications, could alleviate the IT hang-up on integration.
Employees have been leading this movement. Instead of using the corporate-sanctioned software on their workstations, many have gravitated to technologies such as wikis, blogs and social networks to collaborate on projects horizontally, without IT's help or blessing. In the CIO Consumer Technology survey, the 311 IT decision makers surveyed conceded that nearly 25 percent of their employees use social networks for work purposes, while 21 percent utilize wikis and another 17 percent use blogs.
From a hardware perspective, Macs have increasingly become more people's brand of choice. Apple shipped 2.3 million Macs in the first quarter of 2008, which represented a 44 percent unit growth for the product and helped Apple realize 47 percent revenue growth, compared to the same quarter the year before.
But businesses' adoption of Macs and Apple software has still been sluggish, perhaps, in part, due to this being a low priority for Apple.
While Apple of course deals with businesses, and has a business team at some of its stores, it undoubtedly remains a consumer-oriented company, by the numbers. Its iPod claims around 70 percent of the market share for MP3 players. Apple sold 22.1 million iPods in the first quarter of 2008. On average, the company says, an iPod has been sold every 1.7 seconds in the five-and-half-year life span of the product.
And evangelists who run Mac shops in small and midsize businesses say their experiences, not as dissimilar to those of large enterprises as you might believe, still demonstrate a mixed bag of results for those using Apple in the corporate setting.
The Wholesale Switch
Shani Magosky, chief operating officer (with IT responsibilities) of Jaffe Associates, a 25-person marketing and public relations firm, didn't need the iPhone to embrace Apple.
Magosky started looking into Macs for her traditionally PC and Windows-based company back in the fall of 2006, she says. She wasn't necessarily wooed by Bono singing in an iPod commercial. She was sick of PCs breaking all the time, she says. Then there was the "sticker shock" of learning what it would cost her to upgrade to Microsoft's SharePoint collaboration software (and the accompanying server technology.)
Specifically, she'd been running an outdated version of Microsoft's terminal server, which allowed her employees (all of whom work remotely, as Jaffe has no central office) to connect to the network and share files. "It was unnecessarily slow and unreliable," she says. "We ended up spending a fortune on IT trouble-shooting."
With her terminal server being outdated, she was told the best option would be to upgrade to SharePoint, which, after purchasing and installing the server, buying the software licenses and all the support surrounding it, would have cost US$100,000, Magosky says. "They nickel and dime you," she says.
Meanwhile, PCs became a costly problem. Between what Magosky views as poor manufacturing and tons of malware permeating the layer Windows leaves between the Web and the network, the PCs began to break with great frequency, she says. "There is just so much that can go wrong with them. All these viruses happen to PCs that don't happen to Macs. And then it costs you more to fix it than just buying a new one. So I said I wasn't going to waste anymore, and went out and bought a MacBook Pro."
Perhaps serendipitously, right around this time, her boss, President and CEO Jay Jaffe, was on vacation with his daughter in San Francisco and visited Apple's flagship store on Stockton Street. "He bought an iPod touch that he was infatuated with," says Magosky. "When he was there, he talked to the business team. They convinced him there was nothing we needed to do now that we couldn't do with them [Apple]."
Before long, Magosky set about switching her entire shop over to Macs. Since Jaffe Associates serves the legal industry, which makes wide use of Microsoft software, Jaffe began using Office 2008 for Macs. The company also chose Apple's Kerio software for e-mail, Entourage for archiving and Apple's Xserve server for back-end storage of data. Magosky predicts that Jaffe will realize a savings of 50 percent in maintenance costs due to the Apple switch, which will pay for the hardware and implementation of Apple products in the first year, she says.
Third-party Mac support, by the hour, remains more costly than Windows support. But, Magosky says, her total amount of required support time has dropped so substantially that she's gaining that 50 percent in savings.
"It's going to increase the efficiency of our staff tremendously," she says. "On top of the hard dollar savings, it's going to free me up to do other, more value-added things." What about those cool iPhones? While Jaffe's users primarily use RIM BlackBerry devices for mobile needs, Magosky says that she might consider iPhones down the road, if enough users call for them.
Ditching PCs at a 25-person company is one thing. But introducing Apple to a large enterprise with legacy systems is quite another. Even some enterprises who've been managing mixed Mac and PC environments for years say that Apple still has some work to do.
Rob Israel, manager of desktop support at Digitas, a New York-based ad agency, says that 30 percent of his company runs Macs. Israel, who manages some 600 Macs across the enterprise, says that a hybrid environment of Macs and Windows can have its pitfalls, technologically and culturally.
"We barely deploy Apple servers here even though the culture has become Macintosh friendly," he says. "There is still a sense in the IT department that we are a Windows shop, and why bother complicating things by introducing more platforms."
The IT shop runs four Apple Xserves, one of which is used to host Filemaker Pro.
While Israel describes the company's relationship with Apple in terms of contracts as "great," the arrangement leaves some things to be desired, he says. "Apple does not provide technology roadmaps, which enterprise IT departments obviously need," he says. "What's worse, they make their hardware incompatible with the previous version of the operating system, and their schedule is impossible to keep up with."
For instance, Israel says Digitas can't deploy new versions of Leopard, Mac's operating system, as quickly as Apple demands. Every time Apple moves to the next version of an OS, Israel says, Digitas ends up having six months where they're forced to buy out-of-date equipment to stay compatible with the old OS. "We have complained about this for the last four years," he explains. "They [Apple] do not have any motivation to design their new hardware to support an old OS, so they won't."
Not Quite a Tipping Point
Apple's buzz could hardly be louder. But have we now reached a time when many large enterprises can consider doing a rip and replace, swapping PCs for Macs? Not likely, says Kay.
Even if a progressive CIO, who felt his or her company had sunk too much money into Windows, wanted to switch wholesale, gaining the initial capital to get the job done, especially as the economy tightens, it could be difficult, he says. "It's hard to see a time when you can change the paradigm that much for computing," Kay says.
For now, the iPhone might just be the starting point, where businesses dip their toes in the Apple pool to see if the enterprise experience improves.
At New York Media (publishers of New York magazine and NYMag.com), Albert C. Lee, director of IT, says he has used Macs for some employees in the organization but has run into problems with service-level agreements. But that's not going to stop him from potentially adding iPhones to the enterprise when it the capability to access e-mail from a Microsoft Exchange server becomes possible in June.
"A good majority of our enterprise users already have an iPhone for a personal communications device," he says. "The idea of empowering a large population of your corporate users with enterprise push e-mail and remote calendar management, especially when they had none before, is pretty attractive."