Mary Shacklett looks at the ways that Apple can continue to expand its influence in the enterprise, but it would require some changes in focus for the company.
If BYOD (bring-your-own-device) has done anything, it has brought ease of use and other ergonomics into the workplace. Apple is both a prime driver and a prime benefactor of the BYOD movement, as thousands of employees who are already in love with their iPhones, iPads and iMACs, are bringing these devices into the businesses that they work for. Ease-of-use, once a "backburner" concern for IT, is now front and center as thousands of tech companies that don't even sell to the end-user device space grapple with how they can infuse this ease-of-use enthusiasm into their own products for competitive advantage.
There are hard numbers that support this enterprise Apple enthusiasm. Needham & Co., an IT industry researcher, reported that in the third quarter of 2011, Apple enterprise computer sales grew at a 42.8 percent clip while overall PC sales growth during the same period was just 4.8 percent. In January, 2012, research firm Forrester surveyed 3,300 IT professionals in North America and Europe and found that 46 percent of the enterprises that these professionals were affiliated with were issuing Apple products to employees. This was up from 36 percent in 2011.
These numbers haven't fallen on deaf ears. In mid-2012, Apple acquired security firm AuthenTec for $356 million, not only to secure valuable finger scanning technology, but also undoubtedly to shore up its reputation with skeptical corporate CIOs who questioned the strength of Apple's security.
But what exactly is Apple's enterprise vision?
If it is to extend the overall market penetration of its mobile devices beyond consumers and into enterprises, the company is well on its way. Yet, even if Apple succeeds in doing this, it hasn't defined itself to IT leaders as being more than a purveyor of commodity devices that are interchangeable with the Androids, Blackberrys, and Lenovos of the world.
I would like instead to advance an argument for Apple to seriously consider a complete enterprise solution "stack." Such a stack would include both mobile and desktop office suite computing. Given the robustness and comparatively higher quality (i.e., fewer OS failures and reboots) of Apple operating systems when compared to their Windows counterparts, it is reasonable to project gains in the office niche. The second part of the full enterprise "stack" would be the advancement of Apple products (like robust, scalable servers) into cloud computing and corporate data centers. This is an area where Apple has not done particularly well.
Dare Apple go that far?
To do so would require several new focuses:
A game plan for the Mac Pro or its successor. Apple has stopped making significant upgrades to this platform since 2010. This has left many corporate users uneasy. The latest indication of non-action was a failure to incorporate Thunderbolt, which facilitates faster data transfers than either older PCI cards or Firewire, into the Mac Pro-while consumer game-playing units like iMAC got the upgrade. iMACS with their quad-core processing limitations, do not scale out for data centers like Mac Pros can. Without a Mac Pro renovation or replacement, Apple's path to success in cloud and enterprise data centers is unlikely.
The ability to engage cloud and enterprise CIOs. Apple remains highly secretive-and while IT leaders understand the need to protect IP (intellectual property), there should be enough engagement and information sharing so that companies can at least formulate strategic IT plans that include Apple products. (Of course, if Apple elects to remain fundamentally a device marketer, this argument is less important.)
Apple should assure interfaces with all industry-standard APIs (application programming interfaces) that can seamlessly interface the Apple OS (and its resource management) into the fabric of virtual computing management software that is used to manage cloud and enterprise IT infrastructures.
It remains to be seen if Apple elects to move in a full-speed-forward enterprise direction. If it does, this will be a significant departure from the consumer-centric success formulas that have worked so well, and that alone would make any well-seasoned executive want to consider the risks of drifting away from a successful strategy. But with Apple's legacy of quality software and highly ergonomic products, the relatively untapped and very likely pent-up potential of the enterprise market is equally difficult to ignore.