Apple's interest in the enterprise hasn't always been obvious. And though the company changed its ways to some extent during the past few years, it still prefers to let its devices and services act as its entryway into enterprise.
Many IT leaders would like to see Apple focus more on the business market, but they also understand the company may never act like a traditional enterprise vendor. Apple's business partnerships with Cisco, IBM and SAP are well-publicized, but those deals are the exception and not the norm, according to a set of CIOs and IT leaders who spoke with CIO.com.
Why Apple's awkward approach to enterprise works
Many turning points have helped change the IT industry's perception of Apple. However, CIOs often disagree on the relevance of specific events to enterprise, based on the special interests and IT requirements of their organizations.
"Apple is garnering more respect and consideration given their penetration of the market and willingness to integrate with other competing technology companies," says Brian Kelley, CIO of Portage County Ohio, in the state's northeast region. "The most important behind-the-scenes move Apple has made for the enterprise is definitely involving increased compatibility with Microsoft and other application developers."
Apple made strategic moves for business by beefing up security and administrative controls for its software and devices, but those changes weren't necessarily geared at enterprise, according to Shawn Wiora, CIO of Creative Solutions in Healthcare, a company that owns and operates nursing facilities. Like many CIOs, Wiora never made a conscious decision to embrace Apple. Instead, colleagues that wanted to use Apple devices mostly made that choice for him, and Wiora had to figure out ways to support them.
"Apple's dominance in the mobile handheld space at the C-level really opened up more doors than [Apple] walked through in the enterprise," Wiora says. "[iPhone] became the de facto mobile device for executives very quickly."
Today more than half of Creative Solutions' employees use iOS devices, and Wiora says specialized business consultants at Apple stores provide many of the support services. "We have a growing respect for Apple relative to our enterprise needs," he says. "We're experimenting with their support offerings while developing a growing relationship with in-store business consultants."
However, Apple's in-store support can't always satisfy urgent enterprise needs in a timely fashion, according to Wiora. Apple also isn't worried about catering specifically to businesses or catching up with competitors in the enterprise market, he says. "They're doing what they believe the enterprise needs at the time regardless of what others would do."
Apple devices find their own way into enterprise
David Chou, vice president and CIO of Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., says at least 80 percent of the employee devices that connect to the hospital's internal wireless network run iOS. High Apple use rates forced CIOs such as Chou to figure out ways to support iOS devices, but he says Apple could certainly do more to help IT departments. And though, Apple has encountered challenges related to enterprise adoption of its products, it has also made considerable strides in security and mobile device management, according to Chou.
However, Apple isn't very interested in the enterprise market, according to Greg Meyers, CIO of Motorola Solutions. "There are some aspects of their products, namely around security, I like a lot, but I haven't seen them do much in their product development or go-to-market activities that makes me think this market is highly strategic for them," he says. "The best thing they've done to be relevant to enterprises is continuing to make great consumer products that drive demand in the enterprise market."
Mark Uemura, vice president of end user technology at Rakuten Marketing, says there hasn't been a single moment — a product release, software update, shift in strategy or otherwise — that changed his perspective on Apple as an enterprise company. "[Apple] hasn't done much to indicate they are really serious about the enterprise," he says. Apple devices sit in the hands, pockets and on the desks of business professionals "because the iPhone and iPad came through the back door and supplanted BlackBerry."
Today, Apple seems to effortlessly straddle the border between consumer and enterprise without any clear business strategy. But like it or not, Apple devices are now used within most organizations — and CIOs have little choice but to adjust accordingly.