Apple, the enterprise IT company

Apple's enterprise business alone makes it one of the 15 largest tech firms. More importantly, the enterprise business sports a 40 percent annual growth rate. How did Apple do it?

Apple has grown so quickly that it can be hard to grasp just enormous it is. CEO Tim Cook tossed out a surprising number in the last earnings call: Apple's enterprise business is $25 billion. That makes Apple, the world's largest consumer electronics company, also one of the largest enterprise IT companies.

To put that $25 billion in perspective, that is larger than the sales of EMC, the largest enterprise data storage firm, which Dell is proposing to buy for $65 billion. And EMC is hardly growing at all as its core business is eaten away by cloud providers and innovative newcomers.

How Apple penetrated the enterprise

Apple penetrated the enterprise with a surprising strategy: it ignored it.

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When Apple was the Mac company, corporate IT closed ranks against it. They might let some designers have a few Macs, but that was it.

So Apple's Steve Jobs returned the favor, refusing the coddling enterprise buyers expected. No high-priced sales force taking them golfing. No corporate jet jaunts to luxurious executive briefing centers. No product roadmap briefings.

But with the success of the iPhone, Apple won senior execs at thousands of companies. When IT balked at supporting the CEO's iPhone, they got a simple message: figure it out or find a new job.

With the advent of the iPad -- essentially a giant iPod that could be supported like an iPhone -- Apple opened up a whole new way of providing always-on portable computing for business. All of a sudden all those people who didn't sit in a cubicle all day had a device that could work the way they did.

Then Apple's lack of enterprise expertise started to hurt. Apple doesn't understand enterprise vertical markets. A networked iPad is a great tool for, say, shop floor control -- a subset of enterprise resource planning -- but Apple has no shop floors to control and zero expertise to adapt the iPad for it.

But companies such as IBM do have the expertise and the sales force that already calls on manufacturers and the services to support them.

So Apple is relying on IBM, Cisco and dozens of other firms to bring Apple products into verticals that even Apple, with its enormous sales and profits, could never hope to attack directly. And that saves it big dollars as well.

As Tim Cook put it:

. . . I don't envision Apple having a large enterprise sales force. We'll clearly continue adding some people, more on the engineering side, but I don't envision having a large direct sales force.

The Storage Bits take

Apple has a great strategy. Very little incremental investment, partners eager to take Apple products and adapt them to hundreds of verticals, and a high growth new market for Apple.

It is so successful that it is starting to drag Macs along with it. Of course Macs have dominated the high-end of the PC market for years, but now with IBM singing the praises of Mac economics -- which includes their excellent reliability -- Windows-centric IT groups are on the defensive. As the Mac growth rate shows, they're losing the battle.

Windows is never going away -- that isn't the point. But just as cloud providers have allowed CFOs to fact check CIO insistence on traditional enterprise vendors, Apple's enterprise partners have given the company the credibility to penetrate business.

Expect Apple to continue adding enterprise-friendly features to iOS and OS X. But its focus on providing the best user experience will remain, because that is what makes it successful in the enterprise as well.

Comments welcome, of course. What impact of Apple's enterprise push are you seeing at your work?

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