Life was so much simpler for IT directors in the good old days, when technology choices made in the enterprise influenced what people would buy for home use. Back then life was also good for certain vendors - especially companies like Apple whose popularity among business users helped get them into the consumer market.
The world's first killer app was also the world's first spreadsheet application. Visicalc ran on Apple personal computers, and gave business users - especially frustrated accountants, and anybody who had to manage a budget - a compelling reason to buy an Apple II. It was this popularity among business users that catapulted Apple out of the garages of hobbyists and into mainstream use.
Now influence travels in the opposite direction. Business users tend to buy products that are first popular among consumers. And as much as Apple benefitted from running the first killer app in the enterprise market in the early 1980s, Apple has benefitted even more from this latest trend where enterprises are influenced by consumer choices. Apple is clearly the poster child for the trend towards a consumerisation of IT.
Apple has made great inroads in consumer market by marketing products that are sexy and appealing-products that actually work without having to be rebooted several times a day. Steve Jobs was the ultimate marketing guru for high-tech products in the consumer market; and even with Jobs gone, the company continues to show an unmatched genius in marketing its products to consumers.
As we were reminded from the recent set of product launches just last week, one of Apple's ingenious marketing tricks is to be secretive about upcoming releases in order to build expectations and to create a lot of hoopla around product releases.
Unfortunately, this trick is problematic for IT directors, most of whom have a significant portion of their user base on Apple products that have come in through "prosumer" purchases - purchases through consumer channels of products for enterprise use. When CIOs get more serious about Apple products, they find it impossible to develop solution roadmaps, because they lack information about future releases of a significant component. But that's not all.
If you look at Apple's organisational chart at the highest level, you'll see that the problem starts at the top. Apple has no senior executive focused on the enterprise market. Why should they? They are making tons of money selling to the consumer market - and they're already making significant inroads into the enterprise market as a fortunate by-product of their actions in the consumer space.
In all fairness, Apple has recently taken steps to pay more attention to CIOs. In the UK, the company now has a number of enterprise sales teams for different industries. And about a year ago, Apple announced a partnership with IBM, the ultimate enterprise vendor, to allow IBM to sell, lease, and support Apple products. IBM has also announced its intentions to develop more than 100 mobile business apps for use on Apple products.
Furthermore, Apple allows partners to deliver iOS devices in a locked-down profile managed by certain enterprise mobility management (EMM) vendors. And just a few weeks ago, Apple announced a partnership with another huge enterprise vendor to help boost enterprise sales: Cisco.
The four big challenges for UK CIOs
With Windows 10 poised to take a bit out of Apple's market share among business users, one might expect Apple to beef up its efforts in the enterprise market. While the computer giant has certainly taken steps to bridge the gap between Apple and IT directors, they haven't done nearly enough.
In the near term, UK CIOs are still left facing at least four big challenges when it comes to Apple products:
1. Apple never provides product roadmaps - they don't even drop hints. No visibility on product roadmap means no planning for product transitions.
2. Apple allows only IBM to fully support Apple products. Enterprises who don't buy through IBM have to wing it.
3. Apple products are expensive. On top of that, Apple doesn't offer volume discounts, nor do they offer global pricing. The larger the user base, the less interesting Apple products look from a financial perspective, as compared to Windows platforms.
4. Apple products follow consumer lifecycles, which are very short compared to the lifecycles of business solutions. By the time an IT director gets to the deployment phase of a solution based on Apple products, he or she is probably at least one version behind on Apple products.
For the time being, most UK IT directors are taking a cautious approach towards Apple - an approach exemplified by IT leaders at the Ministry of Defence.
MoD Chief Technology Officer Madhu Bhabuta says: "Not surprisingly, security and hardening are very important to us. Apple PCs are closed; and this causes problems when it comes time to adding security layers. Apple PCs are also more expensive than Linux or Microsoft machines. For these reasons, our use of Apple computers is limited to niche areas where we have specific use cases involving graphics."
As is the case in most organisations, the MoD is more apt to support Apple handheld devices than they are to support Apple PCs - but only when the handheld devices are used to run thin-client apps. "Apple handhelds may have significantly more success in military context in the near future as we move towards a delaminated architecture, which involves thin client apps hosted on virtualised hardware and software in secure containers," Bhabuta says.
But Bhabuta says they will still need to accredit the handhelds in these cases, and that's something they still need to work out. As for using Apple handhelds to run thick-client apps, Bhabuta prefers to hold off: "It's too onerous to test against multiple platforms, and we have no reason to embrace Apple handhelds exclusively."