The User-driven, IT-supported Apple Invasion of the Enterprise

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The Legacy of Steve Jobs

For Steve Jobs, it was about creating magical products - things that were as much a part of his fancy as they were part of the real world.

At least that is what it felt like last week when I was at the EMC Council meeting in Boston (where Gartner's Cloud Fallacy was pointed out) and IT managers indicated they were being overwhelmed by a wave of Apple products coming in the door. However, surprisingly, they didn't see this as a bad thing and thought it was going to make their companies both more competitive and a better place to work, which I found fascinating. Not only was Windows, the once-dominant product, being displaced, but IT was helping to drive the displacement and by a product from a company that had not made any effort to cater to them for over a decade. I think this once again points to the great fallacy about IT requirements with personal products. They aren't that important, even to IT, in the face of a user-driven demand.


Let's explore this.


The Enterprise Fallacy


I am sorry to say I was part of what created this myth a decade or so ago when all of the IT-focused research firms went to Microsoft and pounded on it to be "enterprise focuses." While this certainly was a requirement for servers and other back-office products, history actually showcased this was a bad idea for user-focused products.


For instance, Commodore had the most popular PC in the 1980s and failed in the early '90s trying to build a business-focused product. Steve Jobs' first major product, the Lisa, was also his first major failure and as Apple increasingly targeted the enterprise in the '90s, it also drifted closer to bankruptcy and recovered after Steve Jobs killed the enterprise efforts. Netscape was the power on the Internet until it went after the enterprise market and no longer exists, and the only enterprise phone company is RIM and it is on a fast track to going out of business today because it can't compete with user-focused alternatives.


Which brings us to Microsoft, which, with Brad Chase and Brad Silverberg, focused on users and peaked with Windows 95, and with Jim Allchin (out of DEC) focused on the enterprise and, at least with regard to valuation, tanked.


What we saw over and over again, but clearly didn't get, was that IT supported the installation of products the users wanted. The only time it actually drove the desktop was with Windows 2000 because of Y2K and Windows XP; the maintenance release of Windows 2000 addressed critical security and support problems. This is partially why Vista stalled and business has been slow to adopt Windows 7 - the users aren't driving the change as aggressively.


The Apple Wave


Now according to the large enterprise customers that were at the EMC Council, Apple products are being brought into the enterprise in huge numbers. The reasons being given recall the reasons that Windows 95 entered on a similar wave, and you may recall it also had lines of folks waiting to purchase it. They include employee morale, employee acquisition and employee retention. None of the typical IT requirements of central management, device security and volume purchasing agreements seem to matter that much. On the contrary, the IT organizations are looking at the Apple App Store as part of their quality control and are letting line management place the products directly into the App Store as the approval process for them bypassing IT entirely, except for some notification. While this initially was only for iPhones, it has spread to iPads and, most recently, Macs. Reports are that the products are working well, the users are nearly ecstatic to have the option, and most often are voluntarily paying partially or entirely for the products themselves.


Let me say again that these weren't small companies; each was a major brand and many were multi-nationals in businesses that included large-scale telecommunications, finance, pharmaceuticals and health care. This is very nearly an Apple revolution.


Wrapping Up: Lesson Relearned


Here is the lesson to take away from this event, and it is one we shouldn't forget: Tools are best when designed for the craftsman. When you design a tool for the bulk buyers of tools, you'll likely get an inferior product at least from the standpoint of the craftsman. And if the craftsman gets a vote, the tool designed for them will win even if it comes at a more expensive price. Clearly, we have workers who do data entry who can live and work easily on bulk products, but the vast majority of productivity workers are actually hired for unique expertise and are closer to craftsman.


Currently, Apple is appealing to these people better than anyone else and is reaping some impressive enterprise benefits. We'll see if this continues when Windows 8 launches, but one thing to remember is it is generally vastly easier to hold contested ground than to retake it. Recent Apple converts are likely going to be difficult to move back once they have invested in Apple's products, iTunes and its apps.


Yep, the "Crazy One" Steve Jobs got it right one last time. I still really doubt Apple can continue operating at the current level without Jobs for long, but for the short term, Jobs' spirit is still clearly with the company.


Oh, and if you get a chance to pick up and read the latest Steve Jobs biography, do it. It truly is a great read.