Need For Mac-specific IT Skills Keeps Macs A Minority In Business

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Is there a glass ceiling for Macs in enterprise companies?
Is there a glass ceiling for Macs in enterprise companies?

A new Forrester report on Apple in the enterprise shows that nearly half of all companies (46%) issue Macs to at least some of their employees. The report also notes that Macs make up a thin slice of the overall computing population in most of those companies – an average of just 7%.

While the report notes that Apple’s overall sales of Macs to businesses increased by more than a third (34.9%), it seems that Macs remain a distinct minority in most businesses. Given the business and enterprise dominance of the iPad and iPhone, the much slower growth of Macs in business can seem surprising by comparison. This issue has been debated time and again over the years and the more common reasons offered tend to be IT professionals having a preferences for Windows, corporate cultures favoring uniformity, and Apple’s refusal to act like most enterprise vendors.

All those are valid points, but one issue that rarely gets raised is that supporting a handful of Macs is a very different experiencing than deploying and managing a larger number of them. It takes a different set of skills on the part of IT professionals and, in most cases, it requires investing in a different set of tools.

This threshold of differing IT needs isn’t unique to Apple or to the Mac platform. As a small business grows from an office with a handful of employees and computers into a mid-size firms with dozens of employees and computers, there’s a big shift in what it takes to support those users and computers.

Initially, adding new computers by buying them off the shelf, manually going through the Windows or OS X setup process, and installing applications by hand is fine. After a certain point, however, that becomes very time consuming. Similarly having a single computer with file sharing enabled or having a single hard drive attached to a wireless router can be all a company needs while its small. Eventually, however, a more robust file and document sharing solution system with easy to manage permissions will be needed. Ultimately, a company will have to consider hiring a technology consultant or even a full time technician as it continues to grow.

When a business has small number of Macs (or any piece of technology), it can often support and manage them on an ad-hoc basis. In larger businesses, a small Mac population is almost like the small business that I just described from an IT staffing or resource perspective. As that Mac population gets larger, a company needs to build out specific infrastructure to support and manage larger scale Mac deployments as well as to make a greater effort at integrating the larger number of Macs into the enterprise IT systems to ensure uniform access and experience across both PCs and Macs.

Things that need to be addressed as a Mac population increases include:

  • Mass deployment tools for rolling out new Macs, OS X releases, apps, and other software updates
  • Client management options to secure Macs and pre-configure OS X and installed applications
  • Advanced integration with enterprise systems – some of this is built into OS X but may not be sufficient for some organizations
  • Help desk training and procedures for resolving Mac-specific issues
  • Technician training and skill sharing to ensure that Mac support isn’t being provided by just one IT staffer or a small group

That can be a pretty tall order and it requires researching and purchasing Mac-specific enterprise tools as well as the investment to acquire the needed skills.

Does that mean that Macs will never become a major part of the computing landscape in business? Not really. Mac use in small to mid-size businesses is a booming market – both because of Apple’s marketing effort and because small businesses are picking up the needed Mac management solutions and skills as needed as they grow. It does mean that expanding Mac populations in larger enterprises will take a more concerted push, however.