Apple prepares for major enterprise push by making Macs, iPhones, iPads easier for IT to support

Apple has made its products easier for IT to support, and in doing so has laid the groundwork for a major enterprise push.
Written by Bill Detwiler, Contributor
Image: iStock
Steve Jobs was notoriously ambivalent, and often outwardly hostile, to the idea of marketing Apple products to the enterprise. In 2010, he told Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher (then with The Wall Street Journal) that what he hated about the enterprise market was the fact that "the people that use the products don't decide for themselves, and the people that make those decisions sometimes are confused."

Five years later, and a lot has changed. CEO Tim Cook, Jobs's successor, has embraced the enterprise market. During Apple's F1Q 2014 earnings call, Cook said:

"It's clear that the enterprise area has huge potential, and we're doing well from a percentage of companies that are using iPhone and iPad. It's up to unbelievable numbers."

To make his point, he cited the following figures:

  • iPhone is used by 97% of the Fortune 500 companies and 91% of the Global 500
  • iPad is used by 98% of the Fortune 500 and 93% of the Global 500
  • 90% of tablet activations in corporations are iPads

And while he acknowledged that conquering the enterprise won't happen overnight, Cook said the company has a good foundation to work from:

"The arc is longer than in consumer, which can immediately go out and buy things, etcetera. And I think we've done a lot of the groundwork as you can tell from these numbers that I've given you, and I would expect that it would have more and more payback in the future."

Indeed, thanks to the groundwork Cook mentioned, Apple has positioned itself to take a serious chunk of the enterprise hardware and software market, which has been long dominated by companies such as Microsoft, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Dell. Here are five things that Apple has done to make it easier for enterprise IT to support, and even prefer their products.

1. Apple makes products people want to use

Apple has driven the consumerization of IT more than any company in recent history.

College students who used MacBooks in school wanted to use them in the workplace. Executives who bought their own iPhones expected their IT departments to support them. Sales people carried their iPads on vacation flights wondered why they couldn't carry into client meetings.

Jobs's characterization of the enterprise as a place where the people who use the products don't have a say in which products they use was accurate for most of Apple's history. But by the late-2000s, this was changing. IT could no longer ignore the flood of consumer products (many of them from Apple) that were coming into their networks, whether through sanctioned BYOD programs or under IT's nose. Eventually, many enterprise IT shops would respond to this user pressure by allowing, supporting, and even deploying Apple products.

Image: Tech Pro Research

A recent survey from Tech Pro Research, ZDNet's sister site, found that 77 percent of respondents said their organizations began deploying Apple devices, or allowing employees to bring their own devices, because a non-IT employee or executive requested them or because IT wanted to let employees choose which machines they used. Seven percent of respondents reported that IT actually asked for Apple products.

User demand is only one reason Apple products are found in more offices and boardrooms today than in the past. Apple has made their devices easier for IT to integrate with their legacy networks and easier to support.

2. Macs and Windows machines now play nice

There was a time when you couldn't just swap files between a Windows machine and a Mac. But this is no longer the case. Both Windows and OS X offer read/write support for FAT32 formatted drives (which includes most USB flash drives). OS X can read files from NTFS partitions on Windows boxes and there are third-party tools that can even let Windows read OS X's HFS+ file system.

In addition to Windows and Mac users being able to swap most files these days, OS X machines can also be bound to an Active Directory domain. This makes account and machine management, along with printer and file sharing, much easier than in decades past.

Lastly, OS X now supports Exchange. Whether you want to use OS X's built in Mail, Calendar, and Contacts apps or Microsoft's Office for Mac or Office 365 for Mac, Exchange users can still get mail, schedule appointments, and manage their contacts with ease.

3. Software is less OS-specific

Not only are files more easily accessed on both Windows and Macs these days, so are the applications that enterprise workers use. Most major productivity suites (word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, email, etc.) are available for both Windows and OS X.

If your users work mostly on web-based software (Google Apps, Salesforce, Box, Workday, Zoho, and the like), the operating system they're running usually doesn't matter or there's a client for both Windows and OS X. And if you absolutely must use Windows software, you can always use OS X's Boot Camp utility or third-party virtual machine software to run Windows on a Mac.

4. Enterprise-class device management tools

In addition to making life easier for the enterprise user, Apple has made their devices easier for IT to manage.

Using Apple Remote Desktop (ARD), IT pros can distribute software, run hardware and software reports, automate management tasks, and use screen sharing to provide remote support. In addition to ARD, many third-party management products (such as LANDesk) now support Macs. There's even a version of Microsoft Remote Desktop for OS X in the Mac App Store.

And for managing all the iPhones and iPads in the enterprise, Apple provides a variety of mobile device management (MDM) tools, including Profile Manager and the Apple Device Enrollment Program (DEP) which make it easier to deploy new devices.

5. Apple Retail Stores: Apple's secret weapon in their enterprise campaign

If all the factors above weren't enough to make enterprise IT rethink their approach to Apple products, Apple's worldwide network of retails stores should. A company with employees in a city with an Apple Retail Store can basically use the Genius Bar an extension of their IT department. Hardware covered under AppleCare can be taken in for repair. And provided your IT department keeps a few loaner units on hand, employees will experience minimal downtime.

In addition to using Apple's retail stores for repairs, Apple's Joint Venture program helps businesses get 1-to-1 style training and customized support. Store associates are even instructed to look for business customers, ask for business cards, and recommend the program to potential clients.

Heating up their enterprise campaign

With all the above groundwork done and Cook at the helm, Apple is pushing its enterprise plan into high gear.

In July 2014, Apple and IBM announced a partnership to "collaborate on exclusive industry-specific applications built on iOS." As part of the IBM deal, the company also announced AppleCare for Enterprise, which combines 24/7 remote assistance from Apple and on-site support from IBM.

John Solomon, a former SVP with HP, joined the company in January 2015 as VP Enterprise and Government. Given his title, Solomon will likely focus on growing Apple sales to government agencies and large corporate clients. In addition to hiring Solomon, Apple has also posted several enterprise-focused sales positions to its website.

With a market cap of nearly $742 billion (as of May 2015), Apple is the world's most valuable company. It's also one of the world's most recognizable brands and could become America's first trillion-dollar company. While most of that success has been built on their consumer business, there seems little doubt that Cook sees the enterprise as a significant part of the company's success in the future.

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