Apple’s Top Down Road to the Enterprise

September 30th, 2010

So here’s the conventional wisdom (such as it is): Apple is a consumer-oriented tech company. When it comes to the enterprise, IT people look for Windows on a personal computer, and a BlackBerry when it comes to smartphones.

Despite earning record profits and sales almost every quarter, the critics still aren’t satisfied. How could they be? Apple refuses to bend to their demands, so therefore Apple must be on the wrong track.

Unfortunately, when it comes to such theories, facts have a nasty habit of getting in the way. The evidence, however, is not the sudden appearance of a large enterprise-oriented sales organization within Apple, but statements the company makes during quarterly calls with financial analysts and even during special media events, which indicate that the enterprise is actually a strong part of company strategy, even if their approach is different from the rest of the industry.

Take the typical scenario. A company executive buys a MacBook Pro for traveling, or perhaps an iPhone or an iPad. That executive brings the new Apple gadget to work, and informs the IT staff that they have to find room for the new purchase in the company network. Even if the system admins never considered such gear seriously, they’ll discover pretty quickly that a Mac easily mates with a Windows network, and that Apple offers advanced and secure tools to help a company manage iPhones. Those tools are probably second only to RIM in terms of the level of business support.

Suddenly the possibilities of using a Mac or iPhone at work aren’t so outrageous.

Yes, I realize that there are loads of long-time prejudices against Apple. Macs can’t hook up to network printers, Macs don’t integrate well in Windows networks, and there’s no support for the company Microsoft Exchange email server.

I remember a situation back in the late 1990s, where the lone Mac user in a fairly large company asked me to come in to help integrate the computer to the rest of the network, which used PCs. Now cross-platform file sharing wasn’t so simple then, but connecting to the office printer was a piece of cake. In fact, I was able to do it in a couple of minutes, as the IT person ruefully explained to me that doing the same thing on a Windows box was basically a hit or miss proposition.

Yes, I grant that Windows is also far better today in handling networking, printer setups and, indeed, integrating with Macs. But many IT people still believe the old myths, and it’s a sure thing that proper Mac integration might still be a problem in some environments. So I don’t need the cards and letters to remind me how Macs aren’t suitable in your company, even if they can run Windows natively courtesy of Boot Camp.

Let’s return to Apple’s announcements during those analyst and press meetings. You almost always hear how a surprisingly large portion of Fortune 500 companies are deploying Macs and Apple mobile products either for testing or full-blown installations across a company network. Even if Apple isn’t making an overt play for business customers, that’s clearly happening anyway.

Where Apple is suffering is the lack of custom vertical applications for some industries. For example, our family doctor has a small Wi-Fi network, consisting of tablet-based Fujitsu note-books that use a special application designed for medical offices. The doctor’s office manager tells me the system is terribly inefficient, that it actually takes longer to process patient information, even during routine examinations, and thus they can see fewer patients per day.

Yes, I realize there are Mac apps that also support legal or medical offices, but that doesn’t mean this doctor’s problems would be solved. For one thing, if they want a tablet-based system, other than a customized MacBook from Modbook, the choice is the iPad, for which such software is still basically non-existent.

Even if a proper app for medical offices became available, there is no guarantee that the data from a doctor’s existing system can be transferred, or that there wouldn’t be severe delays and extensive retraining for the doctor and his or her assistants.

In such product categories, Apple doesn’t do so well, and businesses may still be forced to rely on a Windows PC to handle the heavy lifting. But for art departments or other divisions that use cross-platform apps, moving to a Mac may not be such a chore. Assuming the apps are similar, and that would certainly include Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop and loads of other products, the retraining probably won’t be so difficult. Once the worker gets past the fixed menu bar and different keyboard shortcuts on the Mac, the migration process ought to be fairly straightforward.

But it’s all happening not as the result of Apple making a huge sales push into the enterprise, but — sometimes anyway — as the result of savvy executives trying out new toys and finding that Apple indeed offers the right tool — indeed the best tool — for many business tasks.

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One Response to “Apple’s Top Down Road to the Enterprise”

  1. Andrew says:

    I’ve been doing cross-platform for many years, and things are extremely easy today. Even at the enterprise level with Active Directory and server-hosted home directories, Macs can play well. Sometimes they require third-party software to do so, such as Thursby’s Dave, while sometimes the built-in tools from OS X are sufficient.

    Mainstream pplications are rarely a problem anymore. File formats are usually identical across platforms, and other than remembering to swap with , so are the keyboard shortcuts.

    Its the specialized applications where the problems lie, but as more and more of that stuff moves to the cloud, that too will cease to be a problem.

    I don’t care for web-based solutions and have resisted moving my law practice to the most popular one for Immigration law, instead making due with MS Exchange for calendar and FileMaker Pro for client and case management. I’m looking at Daylight as an alternative, which is a Mac-specific client-server application for business that easily adapts to law office management.

    Of course, cross-platform integration is nothing new. I used to have a desktop PC running Windows 2000 and a bunch of Macs, and used a program called PC MacLan to give a “Chooser” to Windows. Later, when I was mostly PC and had a single Mac, I used Dave. Today, basic file sharing is built in and no third-party software whatsoever is required.

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