Apple in the Enterprise: Breaking Microsoft's Grip

At Lifetime Products, Apple products breached a long-time Microsoft stronghold, disrupted a conservative IT culture and tested the CIO's mettle to inspire his troops and embrace the consumerization of IT.

Mon, November 28, 2011

CIO — When Microsoft wanted to show off its midmarket affinity, the software giant would do a promotional video with Lifetime Products, a manufacturer of polyethylene folding tables, chairs and sports equipment. Until about two years ago, Lifetime was Microsoft's midmarket darling.

So what's changed?

"We love Apple," says Lifetime CIO John Bowden, who began adopting iPhones and iPads recently. "The bottom line is that Apple makes great products."

To truly understand how monumental his decision was—"Wow, John is really doing this!" said employees—a little background is in order. When it comes to technology enabling people, Lifetime is one of the most conservative companies out there.

Bowden has a stranglehold on corporate data via a virtual desktop infrastructure, or VDI. He has disabled USB ports on laptops and deployed digital rights management software. He continues to force employees to check out Web sessions and monitors just about every digital transaction with Lifetime's servers.

(To be fair, the company has been burned by intellectual property theft, especially during Lifetime's early interactions with Chinese manufacturers.)

Such a Fort Knox approach practically demands the use of only a handful of vendors whose products work together like bricks in a wall. That's why Lifetime chose to build its fortress with Microsoft products. Lifetime works closely with Microsoft in product development and testing for the midmarket. Bowden visits the Redmond campus regularly.

"Then came Apple's disruptive technology," Bowden says.

Bowden's decision to adopt consumer-aimed iPhones and iPads is simply stunning. The thinking goes, if Apple can break Microsoft's grip on a place like Lifetime, then no company is safe from Apple in the enterprise.

Apple Inspiration in ... Redmond?

Bowden began his Apple adventure with the iPhone 3 more than two years ago and the iPad 2 recently. The iPhones replaced Microsoft Windows Mobile 6.x phones even though Lifetime still participates in Microsoft's Windows Phone rapid adoption program. iPad's Airplay Mirroring allows sales and marketing people to wirelessly hook up to an HD TV and give presentations on the fly.

Today, Lifetime has a couple hundred iPhones and iPads each.

Lifetime has also adopted Apple products in other ways. The company has an app on the App Store called Lifetime Products that basically replaces all of its catalog sheets that sales people use. Moreover, Lifetime is installing Apple TVs in its conference rooms.

Slideshow: 15 Ways iPad Goes to Work

So what does Microsoft think about such a traitorous tech move? Herein lies the irony: The inspiration for Apple devices at Lifetime came from Microsoft itself.

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