One CIO Says He Wants Apple in His Enterprise -- Could This Be a Trend?


This week I was part of the "Get to the Point" session at InformationWeek 500 (very nicely attended conference, the right people, and the right topics), where two of us were given a few minutes to quickly respond to questions posed by Alex Wolfe, our moderator. My sharp counterpart, Toby Redshaw, CIO for Aviva (a Fortune 70 insurance firm that is in good financial shape), was both intelligent and articulate. I point that out because, in response to a question on Apple in the enterprise, he said "absolutely," which is something I wouldn't have attributed to someone who was clearly as competent as Toby appeared to be.


We disagreed on this point, but he actually has the authority to implement his ideas, where there is little risk to me, regardless of which side I took in this discussion. Given that, let's explore a number of his excellent points on why Apple might work its way into the enterprise.


Windows Sucks


Well, he didn't actually come out and say this, and he had earlier indicated that he was a massive Microsoft shop currently rolling out SharePoint (though Microsoft's CTO almost talked him out of that) broadly. But he clearly wasn't that happy with Vista. Given what appeared to be a huge focus on hosted and cloud-based services, his ties to the Windows desktop appeared to be getting increasingly tenuous.


I know that, for a lot of users doing distinct jobs (those in advertising or other creative roles), the Apple platform is more popular. I got the sense that he thought employees should have some say in the tools they are given.


iPhone Is the Game Changer


For him, however, it wasn't as much the MacOS or Apple machines as it was the iPhone that seemed to catch his interest. His stated goal was to give every employee an iPhone, something I'm dying to see anyone get enough budget clearance to do in a company of this size. Still, with MobileMe (at least once it is working reliably), you can now integrate this phone with Exchange, and its browser remains one of the best on a cell phone, creating what may be a near-perfect portable front end for the back-end services he is creating.


While I thought he was a little more cavalier than I'd be with regard to security, it is his shop. I did agree that third parties are beginning to address the security issues with the iPhone just as they have been addressing similar issues with other phones.


CIOs and IT Organizations Are Clueless


This position from a CIO is certainly surprising. When taken in context, though, it is also consistent with my own views. The problem often is that the IT organization doesn't know how to build and configure most hardware, yet it will go to great lengths to specify that hardware. The result is frequent overpayment and underachieved expectations.


His point was that if the IT organization better defined the problems it wanted to solve, the vendors could be better at providing packaged products that would address those needs.


This idea of a packaged offering offset my own concerns surrounding Apple, which were based on Apple's inability and unwillingness to work closely with IT. He asked, if you are basically buying off the shelf, just how close do you need to be with any vendor? His comment, "I don't want to marry the company," was to the point. This approach clearly benefits packaged-product companies like Apple and typically results in lower purchase, deployment and maintenance costs if -- and this is a big if -- working with the packaged product is more effective then working around it.


Wrapping Up


I get the sense that Toby isn't alone and that there are a lot of CIOs, and CEOs for that matter, who are getting tired of the complexity of custom-configured offerings. If this trend continues, assuming Toby and folks who think like him actually represent a trend, it could foretell a future vastly closer to what we had with typewriters and calculators than we currently live in with PCs.


Given that it is hard to miss that Apple's own financial performance is largely the result of Steve Jobs simplifying his own shop, there is at least one example of how something like this could contribute significantly to the bottom line.


Something to ponder as we start to look back on a way-too-interesting summer.