Apple has been the target of recent criticism for its current pace of innovation. However, though the company's slow-and-steady approach to the enterprise may not be winning over financial analysts, it is proving to be an effective strategy for expansion into the business market.
Apple set the stage for a formal courtship of the enterprise nearly two years ago, when it inked an alliance with IBM.
Since then, the company has struck deals with Cisco and SAP to tap the strengths of these stalwarts in enterprise services and mobility, in additional to a number of smaller players.
IBM and Apple built a foundation for enterprise growth through more than 100 jointly developed mobile business apps, according to Mahmoud Naghshineh, IBM's general manager in charge of its Apple partnership.
Mobile devices are changing the ways professionals work, and the next opportunity is to capitalize on the modern mobile transformation, Naghshineh says. "That is a bigger thought that is a far more sustainable, far-reaching value."
In 2016, Apple and IBM aim to scale what they've already built. All of the apps created under their MobileFirst for iOS initiative have been tested and deployed across large workforces, he says, and now it's time for developers to build and expand on the software. "We've got the largest number of iOS Swift developers that you can ever find in the enterprise."
Apple's multipronged approach to enterprise
Apple's push into the enterprise continues to gain momentum thanks to other collaborations with smaller companies, including Box, for content management, and DocuSign, for electronic signature and contract exchange. These deals don't get the same level of attention as the high-profile partnerships with IBM, Cisco and SAP, but they make Apple's products and services more viable for business use.
DocuSign CMO Brad Brooks says his company worked with Apple for a few years on various projects, including the development of many of its enterprise-specific features. And DocuSign collaborates with Apple on its major enterprise programs, such as the Mobility Partners Program and MobileFirst for iOS initiative, which Brooks calls "evolutions of each other." Apple is also a DocuSign customer, according to Brooks.
Box also has a number of agreements with Apple as well, including (by extension) its designation as the preferred content management company for IBM. The Box platform can be accessed and customized for enterprise via its API. "We want to become the underlying content collaboration fabric that can power a bunch of applications," says Jeetu Patel, senior vice president of platform at Box.
Similar to DocuSign, Box makes its most popular features available to iOS enterprise developers without a direct customer relationship, according to Patel. "Mobile is fundamentally helping change a company's core business model and their customer acquisition models," he says. "It's actually become a cost of doing business, and it's a baseline expectation that's now starting to get created because of mobile."
This factor will dramatically change CIOs' jobs, but it will also empower them to help businesses overcome the structural shifts taking place today in nearly every industry, according to Patel. "The world is actually flattened from a competition standpoint where you're not just competing with your competitors, you're now competing with the best-in-class in the digital world, regardless of the business that you might be in," he says. "That's a pretty interesting problem to solve for CIOs."
Apple's enterprise effect on CIOs
Some of Apple's progress in the enterprise is a direct result of smaller alliances with companies including Box and DocuSign. Both organizations say these partnerships helped them understand the unique challenges IT professionals face when managing and securing Apple devices, and they regularly share best practices with their CIO customers.
[Related: SAP design chief talks details of Apple deal]
DocuSign's Brooks says today's CIO faces a "giant wall of worry" that's building up around the demands of employees, and some IT professionals think Apple's move into enterprise compounds the issue. "The question is can you channel it off and mitigate the impacts of it, or are you going to take it head-on?" he says.
Fear is simply no longer an acceptable or appropriate response to Apple devices in the enterprise, according to Brooks. "This is the constant challenge that is becoming greater and greater for CIOs," he says. "You've got this tension around data security, integrity and the way that you used to be able to combat that as a CIO is create a bigger firewall, build a bigger moat. The reality is that just doesn't work anymore."
Enterprises need to carefully plan and embrace the conversion to mobile at the most senior level, according to Brooks.
"It’s really important to pick the right problem to solve in mobile," Patel says. "Make sure that your product or solution that you're providing is not just 20 percent better than what's available in the market, but 10 times better."
Patel estimates that only 30 percent of businesses are prepared for the type of mobile transformation Apple has started to create with its enterprise partners. "Everyone's going to be digital," he says. "The nuance in whether or not you'll succeed is in the mechanics of how you go about doing it."