Apple and the CIO: The Great Love-Hate Relationship

Apple started the consumerization of IT trend, which has led to many sleepless nights for CIOs. But Apple has also made tech cool again –- and worker productivity is up!

Oh, Apple, how I love and hate thee.

Apple has made tech cool for the masses again. People haven’t been enamored with computers like the iPhone and iPad since the mobile laptop freed them from the dreaded desktop (and cubicle). CIOs stand to prosper from this gadget love-fest as worker productivity surely rises with iPhones, iPads and apps.

The always-on nature of Apple mobility has led to people working more: evenings, vacations, holidays, in coffee shops, during commutes.

“We love Apple,” Lifetime Products CIO John Bowden told me. Lifetime, which manufactures polyethylene folding equipment, had been a Microsoft shop but began adopting iPhones and iPads recently. “The bottom line is that Apple makes great products.”

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Credit the CIO for making all of this possible with a high-tech wiring act that employees don’t know or really care about. The only thing that matters is that the CIO now says yes to the consumerization of IT. The infamous IT department of no has suddenly become the great enabler.

Sure, techies faced an IT culture shock with Apple’s wooing of consumers as a feature of its indirect enterprise play. Many CIOs, though, saw an opportunity to break out of the technical trappings that have isolated them from the business side for decades. An iPad app even changed the way a 100-year-old hydraulics company sells equipment.

“Some of the best of us will say, good riddance” to the old ways, Aaron Freimark, IT director at Apple services firm Tekserve, which helps Fortune 1000 companies adopt the iPad, told me last year. “Now we're able to concentrate on having people be productive with technology.”

To be fair, Apple has worked hard behind the scenes to bring enterprise-class features to its consumer-driven iOS products. Last year, Apple rolled out a volume purchasing program and portal for a custom iOS business-to-business app, and also tweaked its iOS Developer Enterprise Program. Apple has brought encryption, security and other enterprise features to the devices and iOS 5.

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Apple’s efforts have spawned a cottage industry of mobile device management and app management vendors. There’s more work to do, in the form of standards of interoperability and communication, Freimark says.

So Apple really is the mother of the consumerization of IT trend, which has helped elevate that status of technology and the CIO. But it’s about to take a nasty turn in 2012.

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Android devices are riding the trend and will likely make a big enterprise push this year. Consider this stat: Late last year, MDM vendor MobileIron told me it gained 1,000 new enterprise customers in the last 10 months, with at least 50 percent deploying Android devices, mostly in pilot programs. Those pilot programs will move to larger deployment this year.

"There will be a spike of Android devices coming to the enterprise after the holidays and a spike in the second half of the year as more devices are upgraded,” Ojas Rege, vice president of product at MobileIron, told me.

Android, though, is riddled with security problems and app interoperability inconsistencies. Its many OS flavors and multi-manufacturer device implementations make Android support in the enterprise nearly impossible. Experts have told me that CIOs will only be able to support a couple of Android devices and therefore must refuse end-user requests to support others.

Then there’s the Amazon Kindle Fire, which runs a customized Android 2.3 Gingerbread OS. It’s a good bet at least a few employees will want to hook up their shiny, new Kindle Fires to the corporate network, at the very least to get email. Yet the Kindle Fire is far from being enterprise ready. No doubt CIOs will soon appreciate what Apple has done for them (if they don’t already).

Kindle Fire doesn’t meet any of MobileIron’s technical criteria for a device in the enterprise. Kindle Fire doesn’t have the ability to encrypt data, configure email remotely, support password lock and wipe, configure secure connectivity, deploy apps, and establish identity through a certificate.

“Kindle Fire is going to increase the pressure on IT to support Android even as it increases complexity,” Rege says. He figures enterprise IT will initially refuse to allow Kindle Fire in the workplace.

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