With some enterprises handing out iPads like tequila shots at a party, Apple needs to belly up to the bar with a few changes.
In the Golden Age of PCs, IT pros hated Apple products, and in my informal research for this column, I'd say that attitude persists, even if it's less prevalent. Back in the day, unless they worked for a design firm, or for another Apple stronghold like education, IT pros did their best not to allow Apple products through the door. While the Mac didn't fit into existing management schemes--a problem that still exists--the real problem was that in the era of fat PC apps, the Mac didn't run anything exactly like a Wintel machine. Combine management challenges with app compatibility problems and increased helpdesk requests, and you can see why IT teams generally weren't Mac fans.
Today, fat apps are much less common and are more highly targeted at specialized tasks. Web interfaces are the way to get at almost everything else, including most business-specific applications. For business users, tablets with instant-on and all-day battery life come close to being the only device they need.
It's a brave notion to tell Apple anything about how it should do its business, but as Steve Jobs steps away from day-to-day responsibilities, now is the time to look at just what Apple can do to make it even easier for its customers to use its devices in all phases of their lives, including at work.
The first, most obvious, and easiest thing for Apple to do is to include more enterprise-level vendors in the alpha and beta testing of its products. When the Mac Lion operating system was released, the old methods of AFP authentication were eliminated, sending NAS vendors scurrying for a patch. Likewise, using Lion's SMB against certain EMC systems actually crashed the EMC box. Shame on EMC for that even being possible, but the fix is simple: Apple should have involved EMC in the beta testing. Many of Apple's customers are EMC's customers, and new versions of their products should work together at least as well as old versions did. Apple, you're the most valuable technology company on earth, so please don't tell us you don't have the resources to support other vendors in fully testing your product releases.
The second thing Apple must do is play better with system management vendors. IT pros aren't asking too much when they want to manage the inventory of devices on their network from one application. With some enterprises buying iPads and handing them out like tequila shots at a frat party, management vendors will be happy to work with Apple, as long as it doesn't insist that the management console run on Mac hardware. Last we checked, MobileMe runs on Sun hardware, so Apple can't be too uppity about insisting on Macs in the data center.
Working well with system management vendors means including them in your product release process. When Apple releases a new OS, management support should be available on day one. Apple's goal is to make OS X and iOS devices equally useful in all phases of its customers' lives, so it must support the needs of business users.
The next steps Apple must take toward enterprise detente are tougher to hone in on. Some IT pros simply want to be able to lock down Apple devices. They'd like to stop users from loading their own apps; they feel the need to be productivity watchdogs. That notion is wrongheaded. Preventing users from loading games on a company device doesn't ensure their productivity any more than installing antivirus software ensures data security. If allowing Angry Birds on a company phone means workers will have their phones with them every waking minute of every day, well, that might be a bargain most CEOs would take. And whether or not they'd take it, it's not IT's call to make--but I digress.
Apple has never been willing to let IT completely lock down devices, and that's as it should be. Locking it all down takes away the individuality that makes people love Apple products. So how about giving IT domain over a virtual corner of the device?
The idea of switching between an IT-controlled virtual work environment and personal profile is appealing, and if done right, should allow IT pros to provision Apple devices for far more than email and calendaring--which is about as far as most are willing to go right now.
While some IT pros want more, most understand that Apple will never give up the user-centric thinking that's been at the heart of the company since the garage days. So they'll take a virtual environment if they can do things like get attestation that the kernel is running as it should and that data presented within the virtual environment is safe. With next versions of the ARM processor expected to sport quad cores and all the horsepower under the Mac's hood, there's no technical reason not to do this.
Apple and the enterprise are in some sort of collegiate courting ritual. Apple's shown itself to be a good potential mate. Now enterprise buyers are showing some interest. The next move is Apple's. Shots have been had, drunken glances exchanged. You know you two crazy kids want to get together....
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