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David Zax

A View from David Zax

How Apple Can Win Enterprise

It’s not all that different from how it won consumers.

  • February 1, 2012

Back in 2010, an audience member at a conference put a question to Steve Wozniak: Could Apple ever become the dominant player in the enterprise, as opposed to the consumer, market? Woz had a measured response. “It can happen, but it’s going to be gradual,” the Apple co-founder said. “What drives a buying decision of a person is a lot different than what drives the buying decision of the enterprise.”

But enterprise, it turns out, is made up of persons. And those persons–those people–are buying their Apple products, loving them, and bringing them into the office. Forrester Research, in fact, has put numbers on the phenomenon, having surveyed 10,000 information workers about the products they use for work. The findings are remarkable: Some half of enterprises (which Forrester defines as having 1,000 or more employees) are issuing Macs to some employees already, and in the aggregate plan a 52% increase in the number they issue this year. All told, 21% of information workers are already using an Apple product for work.

Part of the rising presence of Apple products in the workplace are part of concerted efforts on Apple’s part. Around the time of Wozniak’s interview, BusinessWeek reported that Apple would be teaming up with Unisys Corp. to help sell Apple products to businesses, as well as to the government. (Unisys was a good partner to have; it had already been making iPhone apps for government agencies.) It was something of an unusual move, given Steve Jobs’s historic contempt for the chief information officers in enterprise–he once called them “orifices,” at a 2005 conference.

But equally important–indeed, more important–has been another means of attack on enterprise: more of a Trojan Horse strategy. Rather than waiting for their companies to issue them iPhones, many employees were simply buying them for themselves and bringing them into work. Forrester calls this the “consumerization” of enterprise, and believes that it will ultimately blur or even erase the line between the enterprise and consumer markets.

Given that Apple’s new chief, Tim Cook, an operations man, is reportedly more at ease with CIO’s, we can probably expect to see Apple’s uptake in enterprise accelerate. And oftentimes, it turns out, it’s not even the IT guys whose hearts you need to win–it might be the CEO, or the CTO, points out the New York Times (citing Forrester). The Forrester report reveals that of those making over $150,000 a year, 43% use an iPhone, iPad, or Mac. In the next income bracket down, only 27% are Mac people; in the next, just 23%. Finally, only 19% of those making $50,000 or less are using Macs. Some 41% of those who called themselves “directors” at companies reported using Apple products at work; only 14% of those who called themselves “workers” did so.

Sometimes company’s technology choices change in an instant, with a casual word dropped from the boss. As Forrester’s Gillet told the Times, “Someone influential walks into I.T. and says, ‘Hey, you gotta make e-mail work on my iPad.’”

In the end, then, the strategy that could win the enterprise for Apple may be the same that gave it the consumer market: Keep producing those shiny, beloved objects that become status symbols as much as anything else. 

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