A Message To IT Leaders: You’re Not Apple’s Customer But Your Users Are

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A common complaint that I heard earlier this week at the CITE conference in San Francisco was that Apple wasn’t a “real” enterprise vendor. IT professionals have whined and moaned about the fact that Apple doesn’t behave like most enterprise vendors for years (as a long time Mac and Apple IT professional myself, I’ve probably muttered under my breath about Apple’s approach to the enterprise many more times than most of the CITE attendees). What’s changed, however, is that CIOs and other IT leaders can no longer simply say “no” anytime Apple or an Apple product is mentioned.

This week, Apple even reiterated the point by dropping Apple Configurator, a completely new free tool for managing iOS devices in business. It’s a tool that offers new workflows when it comes to how businesses work with iPads (and to a lesser extent iPhones) and Apple released without telling its mobile management partners or its enterprise customers.

To all those IT folks bitching and complaining that Apple doesn’t publish 18-month roadmaps and doesn’t reach out to every enterprise months in advance of a product upgrade or cancelation, I have to say this: deal with it.

Apple isn’t going to change. Apple isn’t even the only offender in this regard. Google ,and its collection of Android manufacturers, can be just as bad when it comes to unannounced changes and leaving functioning products as “betas” for months or years on end so that it can get away with tweaking them whenever it pleases. Even Microsoft can be accused of doing the same thing on occasion, though they usually make some stabs at an apology.

You, the enterprise IT guys, aren’t the focus of Apple’s products. The company is more than happy to take enterprise dollars and to make a pretty good effort at building enterprise integration options into its products. But that doesn’t mean the company views itself (or will ever view itself) as an enterprise vendor. It’s customers are your users – who, in reality, are your customers.

The trend around which the CITE conference was based is called the consumerization of IT for a reason. It’s a trend about users having the technical skills to recognize bad technology products and decision making. It’s a trend about those users taking matter into their own hands and choosing their own solutions when they feel that’s required. It’s a trend that will only become more common.

And it’s a trend that you can’t stop or reverse – that is becoming as clear as crystal in almost every workplace.

That means you need to accept that Apple will drop a new iOS management tool like Apple Configurator or announce a new OS and release schedule like they did with Mountain Lion and that they will do this without consulting you for your readiness or giving you any more of a head’s up than they give the rest of the world, which is typically none at all.

That’s how Apple does things. That’s how they’ve done things for the better part of two decades. That’s how they’ll continue to do things because it’s part of their culture and, more importantly, it works really well for them. It gets them tons of free publicity, helps them excite hundreds of millions of consumers, and it enables them to build hype that other companies mock while at the same time envying (yes, I’m looking at you Samsung). It helps them sell millions of iPads, iPhones, Macs, and apps. It has made them the world’s most valuable tech company.

I’m sorry to tell you, whether you’re the technology director of a struggling school district or the CIO of one of the biggest companies in the world, that this is what Apple is going to do and your opinion is irrelevant.

So long as your users want to use their iPads, iPhones, or Macs in the office, they’ll do it with or without your okay. They’ll do it without telling you that they’re doing it if they feel that’s what they have to do. And there isn’t a lot that you can do to stop it. The same things can be said about your users that want to use their Android phones, Galaxy Tab devices, and even their Nook Tablets and Kindle Fires.

You may not like hearing this and I know how frustrating it can be when Apple pulls a surprise announcement (like I said, I spent a good chunk of the last decade and a half as an IT person managing and supporting Apple products), but this is the reality of the situation. Once you stop kvetching and accept that this is now a part of your job, you may find you’re surprised that there are really a lot of good tools and resources out there for you.

It’s still going to suck some of the time – but as with everything else in IT, there are tools and processes and workflows and communities that can make supporting and managing the Apple products on your network easier.