Will Macs Make It in the Enterprise?

Arthur Cole

It's always been an obvious, if unstated, mini-strategy of sorts for Apple: Increase business reliance on its wildly popular mobile platforms and then watch sales of Macs and MacBooks jump in the enterprise. How else to explain the company's continued support for a device that has long held only the smallest slice of market share against the near ubiquitous Windows/x86 platform?

But signs are emerging that this scheme is actually working. Gartner has reported that Macs are, in fact, gaining ground in the enterprise, even though penetration hovers at only 5 percent or so. Macs enable enterprises to create a more unified infrastructure around the company's mobile devices, and the fact that lifecycle cost comparisons with many top PC platforms are closer than ever has apparently caused a number of CIOs to begin supporting Macs in the office.

Still, organizations should know what they're getting into when deploying Macs into a largely PC-driven environment. Apple's enterprise unit is very small, according to one insider's report, so don't expect much on-site support for Macs, iPads or any other device. Since Apple has pursued a retail strategy for its platforms, nearly all support and consultations are geared toward individual users, not large organizations. Apple platforms generally work well together, but enterprises will be largely on their own when it comes to integrating them into the wider data environment.

On the plus side, Apple's technology can benefit the enterprise in a number of significant ways. As language firm EasyAsk reported this week, adoption of search applications based on the Siri application could save businesses more than $800 million per day in lower wage costs. The firm arrived at that figure by calculating that workers could shave up to two hours per day with a voice-enabled search tool rather than the traditional text method. At the same time, it would encourage workers to seek answers to questions from existing data stores rather than by interrupting a colleague.

Of course, this kind of research is highly speculative, which unfortunately can't be said of some of the security concerns that have popped up around Siri. According to security firm F-Secure, Siri has a way of gathering all manner of information about its users, including sensitive business information. Much of this data is not contained to the iPhone, of course, but is shuttled to Apple's data centers for processing, outside the user's enterprise firewall. IBM has already banned Siri from its internal networks, although this could come at a cost to worker productivity once Apple starts bundling Siri into the iPad.

It would be easy to quibble over the details of Apple's technology and marketing strategies, but the fact is that the company has done all right for itself so far. Still, the enterprise is Apple's to lose. As a consumer-oriented company, Apple may not care how or why people buy its products. But failure to recognize the fact that most users bring their Apple devices to work could leave the company wide open to a serious competitive challenge before too long.

Apple should know better than any tech company that the digital terrain shifts very quickly, and that the company that dominates in one environment could very quickly find itself struggling in the next. Just ask RIM.

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