Apple's Enterprise Coup d'Etat
If you're getting the impression that the use of Apple products in big businesses is growing, then you've come to the same conclusion as a recent Forrester study. Apple didn't do it by first getting IT leaders on its side. It did it by applying pressure from both above and below.
As a long-time Mac and iPhone user, I always enjoy seeing new people I work with embrace the Apple way. At the same time, while out and about at work conferences and trips, I consistently see more and more iPads and iPhones. I'm sure some of this is my ability to recognize an Apple product while my ability to spot two different Android-based phones is a little less refined. As for tablets, though, it's easy enough: Most of what I see are iPads in the hands of business people. Occasionally I see something else.
So what? These iOS-based devices are actually inside corporations these days, and that is significant -- they aren't' just inside a few trendy small- and medium-sized businesses or populating the graphic design and marketing departments. They're in the hands of CEOs, CIOs, CTOs and anybody who travels, needs easy access to email, calendaring, dashboards and "Words With Friends."
In a highly cited blog post, research firm Forrester put some numbers on the vague impressions I'm getting. According to Forrester, 21 percent of information workers are using one or more Apple products at work. Nearly 50 percent of enterprises with more than 1,000 employees are actually issuing Macs to some employees, and they plan a 52 percent increase in 2012.
Forrester also noted that more senior, higher paid, and younger workers are more likely to use Apple-based devices for work. Obviously, workers with higher wages are more likely to be able to shell out for a personal device they take to work, and the cool kids have been choosing Apple ever since the iPhone crashed the mobile phone party.
But Why Now?
At the heart of this movement, we can point to Steve Jobs' famous intersection of Technology and Liberal Arts, a motto of sorts that informs how Apple approaches product design: You've got to marry amazing technology with user-centric art. What you get is wicked cool design that consumers love to use. I don't know anyone who works far too many hours who loves packing around a crappy cellphone, a creaking heavy notebook PC, or a cludgy tablet. There is no doubt that Apple's industrial design wins the hearts of users while the interface creates a comfortable, consistent ease of use that's amazingly efficient.
If you win over powerful business people, the IT departments will eventually fall into line. Here's how this works: A CEO or high-level executive buys an iPad and/or iPhone and likes it. He or she asks for support from IT to connect it to the office WiFi, if not the email system and calendaring. The IT department balks and offers up some excuses about not being able to support it, about security policies, about it not being fair to underlings, etc., etc., and that the corporate standard is BlackBerry.
To any manager with half a brain, these are all just excuses. The corporate rules and standards should fit the business needs, and being able to easily access email and calendars from an iPhone or iPad fits that need. If IT keeps resisting, these managers start looking at them as if they aren't smart enough to make these devices work. Maybe someone else should be running the IT departments ...
But this subtle infiltration didn't start yesterday or last year. Around the time the iPhone first came out, I was in a meeting a with an IBM executive in charge of a multi-billion dollar line of business. As we started talking, his phone rings. He apologizes and pulls out an iPhone, talks into it briefly -- obviously work-related -- and hangs up with another apology.
I said, "Wow, I didn't know IBM was already supporting iPhones."
He said, "We're not," pointing to his other mobile phone sitting on a table across the room. His inner circle of colleagues, however, accommodated his preference for the iPhone and sent him information to it accordingly. And this was for a first-generation iPhone.
Email Is the Key
Beyond the design, Apple made a smart move by making it easy to connect to a Microsoft-based email system via Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync. Then it went a step further: Apple communicated this to its customers, alerting them to the fact that it was not only possible, but easy. And when Apple made it possible to remotely wipe a lost iPhone, the company lightly addressed the security issues. With this knowledge in hand (however accurate or inaccurate), employees could argue for access for their devices. And if they brought their own, the company didn't have to pay extra out of its own budget -- just offer rudimentary support.
Fast forward to today, and iPhone and iPad users are easily answering email everywhere they go, as well as accepting meeting invitations. With the Calendar app in iOS, they can even see their work calendar against their personal calendars. And myself? I have 17 different calendars on my iPhone and iPad. Sure, one is a birthday-only calendar, but the point remains: They are separate yet combined.
Apple is getting better at enterprise support, too, doing things like offering App Store volume purchasing programs. But this underlying support still doesn't matter as much as Apple's marketing power. Take, for instance, Apple's iPad in Business set of Web pages. Apple is not trying to convince any IT leader that using the iPad in business is a good idea. No, Apple is going after consumers who work in businesses, and if Apple can convince them to take their personal products to work, or just give them another excuse to buy Apple, the company doesn't have to convince IT departments of the details.
It's a brilliant strategy, and even so, I'm still amazed that it's working so well. Will it last when Microsoft starts shipping Windows 8 for use on tablets too? Yes, yes it will. Why? Once the corporate walls crumble around Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies, I can't imagine anyone being able to fully rebuild them on a single company standard.