How to support Apple in the enterprise

The popularity of Apple products is driving adoption in the enterprise. But how should IT departments support iOS and MacOS X devices?

The popularity of Apple products is driving adoption in the enterprise. Apple is focused on the consumer market, but iPads, iPhones and the MacBook Air are now being used by mainstream businesses.

Apple made its impact in the gadget market in 2001 with the innovative iPod. Prior to that, the company was considered mainly as the brand behind an alternative, somewhat trendier version of PCs, with devices such as the Macintosh Classic and the original iMac.

But in April of this year, Apple reported revenue of $45.6bn in the first three months of 2014, with the sale of 43.7 million iPhones making up more than half of this.

According to analyst company Gartner it secured 15.6% of the smartphone market share in 2013, coming second to Samsung.

Today, Apple is strongly focused on the consumer market. The popularity of Apple products such as the iPad, iPhone and MacBook Air has meant these devices are also finding their way into mainstream business use.

Challenges of using Apple in the enterprise

  • Expense – iPads, iPhones and Macs are expensive, so wide-scale roll-outs are difficult to implement under budget.
  • Support – IT departments are not 100% clued up on how to manage Apple in the enterprise, and Apple provides limited support for business users.
  • Security – There are limited options for securing Apple devices in a bring your own device (BYOD) scheme. There are third-party mobile device management or containerisation products available, but these come at an additional cost.

But Apple has only recently shown efforts to add enterprise IT features to its products, such as the security enhancement iCloud Keychain in iOS 7.

Consumers make the decisions

The take-up of mobile computing devices does not show any signs of slowing down. Juniper Research has predicted that more than one billion devices globally will be used as part of a bring your down device (BYOD) initiative by 2018. Clearly, given Apple’s strong financial results, people are buying Apple devices both for home and work use. As organisations allow employees to use their own technology in the workplace, consumers are making more conscious decisions when buying a handset – they want something their enterprises will allow.

Dimensional Research recently found that 60% of businesses are supporting more than 100 Apple devices, and 78% of users say they use Apple because they prefer it over other devices.

Dale Vile, research director at analyst Freeform Dynamics, says departments and individuals within organisations have requested Apple devices in the workplace, but under a corporate owned, personally enabled (Cope) scheme. But he said this is often because of the devices’ aesthetics, and not necessarily how they perform.

"Customer-facing employees, such as sales people and consultants, are often the ones pushing for use of Apple equipment, because of the image. It looks good, it feels good and so on," says Vile.

Traditional IT or bust?

Although Macs have been used as an alternative to Windows PCs since the mid-1980s, they have largely only been used in niche departments and specific types of organisations where Apple-specific software is needed, such as publishing, video production and creative industries.

While it is easy to see that home IT consumerisation has driven the adoption of iPads and iPhones in business, Macs are also making a comeback. Mobile device management (MDM) provider MobileIron has seen not only an increasing trend of iPhones and iPads entering the enterprise, but also an increase in requests for Mac support.

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Supporting Apple technology

Mobile device management provides a security wrapper around mobile devices, whether they run iOS, Android or Windows. But one of the main reasons IT departments are wary of Apple is because they have little experience in supporting Apple devices.

"Apple resisted the idea of it being a business player for a few years. That meant it got away with a lot in terms of supporting the IT department," says Vile.

"But this meant Apple was appalling at providing IT support compared with other players, such as Microsoft and Oracle, and companies that provided businesses with technical information available to IT departments or bug reports and fixes."

According to the AppleCare website, it can cost IT departments almost $50,000 per year for enterprise-class Apple support. The risk for IT is that unless they take support seriously, users may end up buying their own support and charging this back to the business. BYOD support can cost up to $49 for Macs and $29 for iPads or iPhone per incident, which could amount to a large sum if chief information officers do not prevent individuals taking support into their own hands and contacting Apple directly for help.

Will Mayes, marketing manager at Apple premium reseller Albion, says Apple is focused on supporting its own products, and tends not to provide support within the enterprise because there are so many other aspects to take into account such as software installations and networks. "For us it’s about the integration," says Mayes.

Mac is one part of our whole solution, so from the view of support, Apple supports the Mac but it doesn’t cover training or expertise in how everything links up

Will Mayes, Apple premium reseller, Albion 

"Mac is one part of our whole solution, so from the view of support, Apple supports the Mac but it doesn’t cover training or expertise in how everything links up." He also says many new businesses will outsource whole IT systems and, where this is the case, those organisations need long-term support that Apple does not provide.

Cost issues

The price of Apple products can also throw a spanner in the works when attempting to scale devices across an organisation. Peter Scott, director of end user technology at BT, admits that, although some of its teams have iPhones, it ruled out Apple when considering BT’s wider Cope scheme because the handsets were too pricey to deploy on a wider scale.

"We haven’t given up on the iPhone. In our field engineering community we’ve deployed a lot of iPhones and that project has gone well for us. We chose the iPhone because we started the project a number of years ago, and at the time it was the only real smartphone that gave a great user experience," says Scott. "However, the iPhone is a relatively expensive device and when we looked at doing this more widely, rather than picking a phone that was £400 or £500 we found we can do it with a device that’s more like £100."

Consumer focus

"There is a good chance Apple will continue to take an ever greater share of the total laptop market but anyone predicting where the laptop market will go in the next few years is a brave person," says Nigel Hawthorn, MobileIron’s director of European marketing.

Ultimately though, Hawthorn believes the workplace will no longer be dominated by one type of device, but will involve a mixture of whatever IT individuals feel more comfortable using, which may well lead to more Macs in the office.

"We, the consumers, are able to influence IT more than ever before and the IT departments therefore need to take heed of what users want and expect," he says. "We’re going to see a more diverse set of apps and devices depending on what the user’s requirements are, what department they work for and their job role."

Despite its lack of focus on enterprise needs, it is clear Apple will remain part of the enterprise IT mix. In some ways, IT is hoping the feel-good factor associated with Apple products rubs off on corporate IT. "That whole paradigm of consuming applications has been changed by Apple," says Sumit Dhawan, vice-president of desktop at VMware. "What every enterprise wants is to recreate that, but for the enterprise and its own environment."

He says consumers have decided and made the choice to bring the devices to work, and IT has not dictated which devices they are allowed to use for work: "The more great products Apple makes for consumers, the more consumers will like its products, and they will continue to bring them to work."

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