Why Apple's awkward approach to enterprise is paying off

Apple inspires a level of excitement among IT pros today that every enterprise vendor should covet, thanks at least in part to progress in its deal with IBM. However, Apple remains plagued by a number of key shortcomings that keep it from conquering the corporate world.

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Apple's credibility in the enterprise has never been stronger. During the 22 months since the company inked a once unthinkable alliance with IBM, Apple turned a corner with IT professionals by simply extending its established strengths in consumer user experience, interface design and hardware to the market, which it hasn't historically prioritized.

"To a certain degree it's one of those successful partnerships that's a well-kept secret," says Van Baker, research vice president at Gartner. Both companies currently take a generally low-key approach to their MobileFirst for iOS initiative, and without splashy efforts to drum up interest or highlight momentum, much of the related activity happens behind the scenes, he says. 

[Related: Apple and IBM partnership yields 100 iOS enterprise apps]

Apple's primary goal in enterprise is the same as it's always been in every market, according to Baker: Sell more devices. "I think what this is doing is moving the iPhone and iPad assets that Apple has in the enterprise from sort of general productivity tools to being mainstream application tools," Baker says. "It doesn't mean that Apple is suddenly going to become enterprise savvy … Apple realizes the market is important to them, but they still don't have the resources, the positioning, the understanding to go really embed themselves with the enterprises."

IBM helps Apple make 'great progress' in business 

Baker says Apple opened a design center in its home city of Cupertino, Calif., last summer that hosted more than 150 enterprise customers within six months of its debut. The company also has "four different facilities around the world where IBM developers and Apple developers are working side by side on a daily basis," he says.

IBM has helped the consumer-oriented company resolve some of its shortcomings in enterprise by delivering the services and support that large businesses expect from vendors, according to Baker. He also says Gartner's research suggests that more enterprises have deployed native apps for Apple devices than the company lets on, and he says at least 4,000 enterprises are waiting to join the initiative. Many enterprise customers invest in the MobileFirst for iOS program with the goal of creating an app to address a specific pain point, but they often eventually decide to deploy additional apps, according to Baker.

apple ibm mobile first for ios financial management IBM/Apple via Flickr

During last week's earnings call, Apple CFO Luca Maestri said the company made "great progress" with its enterprise initiatives. "IBM now has engagements for more than 200 deployments of native iOS apps for large enterprise customers to accelerate mobile transformation," he said. "We see continued broad industry adoption of native iOS apps to transform how professionals do their work and serve their customers." (Maestri's mention of "deployments" referred to the company's 200 enterprise customers that use custom iOS apps, not 200 individual apps, according to Apple.)

Who's the real winner in Apple/IBM deal?

Shawn Wiora, CIO and CISO of Creative Solutions in Healthcare, a nursing home operator that uses Apple devices and specialized iOS apps, doesn't believe Apple's partnership with IBM makes a lot of sense in the long run. "It's kind of like the horse carriage connecting up to the back of a 1920 Lincoln," he says of the pact. “IBM has lost its mojo. It's almost like a desperate move to align, and Apple has everything to win … I don't see how in any way this is good for IBM." 

Apple's deal with IBM does not have any set expiration date, but due to a notable shift in enterprise support for Apple products, the company will likely absorb more business capabilities into its products in an attempt to steal more of market. "When you're looking at infrastructure decisions, and you're a CIO you can't look at little tactical apps," Wiora says. "You look at who you want to strategically partner with. We've made the decision to strategically partner with Apple, and we've attempted to do things with IBM … [but IBM] is trying things that worked in the past." 

IBM simply doesn't capture CIO mindshare the way it used to, according to Wiora. Today, Apple earns that distinction, he says. "Every aspect of our business is either using or considering using Apple." Creative Solutions in Healthcare uses iPods for music therapy and iPads for file maintenance requests or to manage personalized nutrition programs, for example, and 90 percent of its corporate office workers use iPhones.

[Related: How Apple's consumer software miscues hinder it in the enterprise]

Despite Wiora's clear praise for Apple and stark criticism of IBM, he is convinced that many large enterprises continue to want direct representatives and prioritized support channels from their vendors. And Apple still struggles with the same issues that have kept it from claiming a bigger piece of the enterprise market in the past, according to Baker. More specifically, Apple won't share product roadmaps or address software fixes in a manner that enterprises are accustomed to, he says.

"If a patch is needed, if it's urgent and they get enough input, and there's a security risk or something like that, they'll issue a patch fairly quickly," Baker says. "But if it's a less urgent matter they don't do one-off patches for the enterprise. There's still that friction between the consumer-oriented business model and the enterprise-oriented business model that has an impact on Apple and how they work with the organization." 

CIO.com reached out to Apple for input on this report, but it declined to comment.

This story, " Why Apple's awkward approach to enterprise is paying off" was originally published by CIO.

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