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



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.

  • Richard

    There are more Apple products going into Corporations.  Cisco, GE, Genentech, Mercedes Benz, and many others have been purchasing Apple computers, iPads and iPhones for their employees.  It would be interesting to see an article on how they are being used and what corporations are actually using Apple computers, iPads and iPhones for their employees.

  • Allygill

    I like this concept. As a business user who has spent many years waiting for business to catch up with MS systems because of the potential impact to the business, I find Apple upgrades simple and with little impact. I don’t have to refactor my business when Apple changes its systems. When MS does we spend five or six years testing recompatiblity. In high profile orgs I can still be using OSs that are 3-7 years out of date. Come on, my home systems are more up to date than that…

  • tv_gadget

    Apples target market has always been the everyday regular user..i mean thats the reason steve jobs started apple to make computers that can be used by non techie people…also its probably a image thing that apple isnt very corporate friendly,most of their customers are fans and if they try to get corporate friendly people will start to see them as the next microsoft or IBM…who are looked down as ugly money hungry monopolists..not my opinion but that’s how people see them.

  • Rob Bowers

    The fact is, OSx and iOS are refreshed annually, albeit not on a fixed schedule. IT should know this by now. There are also general patterns for hardware. 

    Any  shop too cheap to buy at least one membership in each dev community and thus get a running start on new OS releases, doesn’t deserve to have their contract renewed (or employment continued). There are plenty of capable folks who could step in and manage the Mac/iDevice portfolios if the old skool winders guys don’t have the stomach for it.

    Resistance is futile. 

    Those who are complaining don’t have their eyes on the road. With a little effort, one can effectively manage this…albeit with a very different mindset than in the past. 

  • saudio

    Great responses, ALL OF YOU!!  Our facility is, very much, Windows/Exchange oriented… except for all of the audio and video controlrooms, which are strictly Mac.  IT has learned to leave us alone and allow us to do our own network troubleshooting, within reason of course, mainly because we know better than they do, and there are RARELY any issues with Macs and the rest of IT.  Once IT Depts realize they’re better off with Apple products in their network, they’ll soon start having company sponsored lunches!!

  • CharliK

    Indeed. IT departments are supposed to be about supporting the users with their tools. Not dictating to them what they can use and basing it on what is easier for IT. 

    IT people are more tech savvy than most of the users they are supporting so they should be welcoming things designed for the user. Then again, if the users can figure it out themselves there goes half the reason for an IT department

  • Peter Campbell

    I work in an enterprise IT department supporting about 3000 machines
    Now about 3 of these machines are iMacs (our graphics design department)
    They all had the old white iMac from a few years ago and have just updated to the late 2011 models.
    I discovered an issue where the machines dont always authenticate with our proxy server which would cause account lock outs in AD.
    Easiest way around this that i recommended is to bind the machines to AD.
    even with testing with our isolated test domain I still received push back from the senior managers in IT.
    Most users I have spoken too all use macs including the CEO.

    I support windows but i am one of those few IT professionals that also like to support OSX but i get told to not support them.

    I just find it such a pain that senoir IT managers a stuck with these old ideals that they just wont let go off.

    I think if IT embraced both Mac and windows in the same environment some of the stigma that comes with the “IT Department” may vanish

  • Stephen Pampell

    Apple makes a good-faith effort to make their products integrate with existing IT infrastructure.  Adding Active Directory and Exchange support certainly makes the machines easier to integrate, but the main issue with using Macintosh computers to replace Windows computers isn’t authentication or email, but pure software compatibility.  When your core business applications are Windows only, it hardly makes sense to bend the Mac (via Parallels or Fusion etc.) to suit that purpose.  Now IT has not one OS per machine to manage, but two.  And the users rarely lack the technical expertise to know what a virtual machine is, let alone why running MacOS and then using your Windows VM for 90% of your daily work is a very inefficient use of resources.

    I use a Mac as my main machine at home, and think that’s its strongest place.  They CAN work in traditional IT environments, but most users get frustrated with compatibility issues, and end up back on the other side of the fence soon enough.  As long as Apple is content providing personal computing devices (which it executes very well on) they will remain as successful as they are now.  If they want to do enterprise computing, they’ll need to provide top to bottom solutions.  Seeing as how they just killed the X-Serve, that isn’t likely to happen.  And why should they?  As long as their devices are successful they have no reason to provide the level of integration between personal devices and enterprise IT infrastructure that Microsoft does.