As Apple products continue to find success in enterprise deployments, many small and mid-size businesses (SMBs) are following suit and welcoming Apple devices into their businesses.
What Apple products lack in affordability, they make up for in user experience, and many small business owners and IT leaders are making the switch to Macs, iPhones, and iPads. Still, SMBs face a very different set of challenges then major corporate enterprises.
With the right preparation, however, you can leverage the technology to get work done in your organization. Here's what you should consider if you're thinking of deploying Apple devices within your company.
Understand the ecosystem
As you begin to consider Apple, one of the key decisions you will have to make early on is how deep you want to dive into the ecosystem. Apple tightly controls its own products and accessories, which can limit your choices for certain hardware or software in the future.
"The further you go into the ecosystem for any given platform means vendor lock-in. That means you're stuck there. However, it seems these days that only via vendor lock-ins do we really achieve the best results," said Charles Edge, product manager at Bushel.
A specific point to consider is how much continuity you want for your employees. For example, if your employees consistently work remotely, you may consider deploying iPhones or iPads along with Macs for the sake of uniformity and collaboration.
Jason Lowry, the head of operations for Finch, said that another ecosystem issue revolves around the use of Apple IDs, the individual usernames within an Apple environment. As Apple IDs are tied to an email, bulk purchasing app licenses can be confusing. Apple now has a volume purchase program, but there is still the issue of employees wanting to use a person Apple ID for work applications.
"It is nice that OSX is tied to the hardware and not the Apple ID, so at least there isn't license management for the OS," Lowry said.
Approach mobile properly
On an earnings call in 2014, Apple CEO Tim Cook said that iPhones were used in 97% of the Fortune 500, and 91% of the Global 500, while the iPad was used in 98% of the Fortune 500 and 93% of the Global 500.
So, we know that iOS devices have the potential to power real work. iPads work great for field employees working with electronic forms, and for a plethora of other tasks for that matter, but the fact of the matter is that iPhones and iPads are simply not at a point where they can act as a stand-in for laptop or desktop.
As you begin working with iOS devices, Edge said it's important to map out your workflows so that you will be able to make sure each employee has the proper set of tools and apps they need.
Once you have decided on which devices you'll support, you should invest in a mobile device management (MDM) platform. It will help you wipe a lost device and better manage who can do what on company devices.
"It essentially enhances the level of security on these types of mobile devices that can easily get lost or stolen, which helps to protect proprietary company data from getting into the wrong hands," said Dan Ward, co-founder of Detroit Labs.
In 2014, Apple expanded its cloud system capabilities with iCloud Drive. Like most cloud systems it can be used to store and share work documents and spreadsheets, or access files among multiple machines. Also, Edge, said, iCloud is the avenue through which you can perform online backups of your iOS devices.
Although it offers some standard features, iCloud probably isn't the best all-around cloud option for SMBs.
"From a user perspective, it can be very confusing to figure out and it doesn't feel like a file system—it feels more like a junk drawer," Ward said.
iCloud could be used as a secondary or tertiary backup option, but it may be a better option to look into Google Drive or Dropbox as a primary cloud service.
As a small business leader, you probably don't have the same IT resources as a Fortune 500 company. Because of that, knowing your options for support is paramount.
Your first line of defence is your local Apple Retail Store. If you're not familiar with the way Apple Retail works, take a minute to read this guide to better understand how it operates. Through its Genius Bar, Apple offers free appointments to diagnose potential issues — just make sure you make an appointment.
If you want to take things further, consider signing up for Joint Venture, Apple's customized business support program. Joint Venture gives users premium support and additional resources such as training on the devices.
"Take advantage of the free classes and services they provide to help users enhance their knowledge of the devices and programs they are working with," Ward said.
Just bear in mind they will only be able to assist you with Apple hardware and software, so accounting software for Macs is out of the question.
Look beyond standard hardware
When choosing the Apple devices your employees will be using, remember that there are more than iPhones, iPads, and Macs.
The Apple TV provides a great option for the conference room, as its streaming capabilities make it easy to use as a presentation device. Also, it can be used to stream music for your company holiday party.
If you want to dip your toe in the water with mobile, but aren't sure about rolling out a fleet of company iPhones, try the new iPod Touch. It has been redesigned to operate more like a phone, and it will give employees access to iMessage and other iOS apps your business may be using, while keeping their personal phone separate from work communication.
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Conner Forrest has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.