How to: Procure Apple iPads, tablets in the enterprise

Procuring tablets and negotiations have a few quirks relative to other enterprise hardware deals, according to Forrester Research.

Consumerization brought Apple iPads and related tablets to corporations, but sourcing managers at large companies will be the ones bringing these devices to businesses in bulk. To date, procuring tablets and negotiations have a few quirks relative to other hardware deals, according to Forrester Research. In a report, Forrester noted that popularity of the iPad in corporations---Apple's financials tell the tale---but sourcing and vendor management executives may have to learn new tricks buying tablets.

The research firm makes the following points:

  • So far, businesses are supporting tablets because workers are bringing them into the office.
  • Despite Apple's early run to the front, the corporate tablet market will be diverse as HP's TouchPad, Android devices and RIM's PlayBook enter the workplace.
  • Companies will have to decide whether to base their sourcing plans on Apple or a traditional IT supplier. Why? Negotiations tactics will vary based on which side you choose.

That last point is notable and perhaps the biggest reason Apple rivals will get some enterprise traction. If companies can lump tablets in with PCs a company like HP or Lenovo could do well. Ditto for RIM, which can sell BlackBerries and PlayBooks together. Apple has been consumer focused and businesses will have to procure through resellers, which may not be used to working with large companies.

Forrester is recommending that companies stick with existing sourcing tactics. "Following basic tenets of hardware sourcing best practices eliminates the confusion and brings clarity to any irrational exuberance," said Forrester.

General practices that will work procuring tablets:

  • Publish a request for proposal with business requirements to determine whether you need an iPad or any tablet.
  • Work with vendors and resellers to get the best deal.
  • Time a purchase to the vendor's final quarter.

The problem with that plan is that Apple's pricing tactics for businesses are different. You can't play the volume game like you would with another vendor. And it's unlikely that you can get tablets tossed into a broader PC deal. Forrester reports that large account resellers are moving lots of iPads, but that means there's little incentive for Apple to discount. Anything less than 1,000 iPads for a reseller isn't likely to get much of a discounts.

If your company will commit to iPads you have some leverage. Apple dealers get an extra point of margin on a minimum 1,000 iPad order. Companies can negotiate to get some of that margin in the form of a discount. In addition, Apple allows resellers to offer enterprise discounts. If companies give a $250,000 a year purchase commitment for Apple gear they can get better prices and discounts.

But the risk for Apple in the enterprise is that companies can and will get better discounts elsewhere. Companies can lump tablets in with PCs and laptops. HP will put tablets in its Big Deal letters, which offer volume discounts for a tablet and PC bundle. Buying from Apple rivals also make it easier to negotiate via an advisor, who would have more historical data on deals. And it may also make sense to get tablets from a vendor you're already using for a PC refresh.

To combat the discounting of traditional enterprise players, Apple executives this week talked about company specific applications for the iPad. Custom business apps would help lock in companies to the Apple ecosystem even with discounts.