Reading a sampling of this week's articles about Apple heading into the enterprise brings to mind Yogi Berra's famous comment "It's like déjà vu all over again." As one Apple employee told me, we never stopped going after the enterprise.
There is a grain of truth in that as I will explain later, but if you read a few of this week's Apple enterprise articles, you will find that the newest Apple push is based on partnerships with other vendors and developers. When I see articles touting partnerships like the one with IBM, I have a hard time thinking beyond what a longtime Apple employee told me a few weeks ago. "You cannot say Apple and partnership in the same sentence."
Considering my long history at Apple in enterprise sales and that I still have some whiplash from Apple's enterprise efforts, I think a few comments are in order.
The gospel according to Steve Jobs says that Apple is a consumer company which makes great products, some of which work very well in the enterprise.
My last few years at Apple I led what might have been Apple's most successful enterprise team. It was something of a skunk works project, but we did exceptionally well in one of the toughest enterprise markets in the world, the United States federal government. We had some high level support including Tim Cook, Bud Tribble, and Fred Anderson.
We were able to get operating system level implementations that made Apple products attractive to a number of agencies and especially to scientists who were tired of dealing with what at the time was a never-ending assault of viruses and malware. We got as far as getting OS X approved as part of the federal government's enterprise architecture. Apple did an OS level implementation of smart cards. Smart cards are requirement if you are going to do business with the federal government. A couple years after I left, they even published a manual about how to implement smart card services on your Mac.
Apple in 2000-2004 period championed CDSA, or Common Data Security Architecture, as the middle-ware building block for smart cards. The theory being it would be easier for everyone if security devices and providers across difference architectures wrote to the same middle-ware. I have not followed this closely but I know that you can still use smart cards with a Mac. However, Apple has switched how they do it all as of Yosemite and there are some questions as to Apple's direction with their security implementation.
With that as a background, here are my thoughts on Apple and the "new" enterprise push.
First Apple has done many enterprise pushes and perhaps all have shown some degree of success but the ill-fated attempt just after 2000 to get into the enterprise with iMac kiosks. The only thing thing that push accomplished was to get a lot of enterprise sales people fired.
Since the early nineties, all of Apple's enterprise sales pushes have had a few common characteristics.
- Lots of strategy.
- Few actual Apple feet on the street.
- Apple has continued to go its own way.
I still remember the Apple-DEC alliance announced in 1988. Most of us selling to the enterprise hopped on a train and went to DEC Word in New York City. DEC was to provide the integration support and people to get Macs into the enterprise. I cannot remember any sales bump from the DEC alliance. Perhaps the third time alliance with IBM will be the charm.
In talking to Apple folks, the theory is that Apple is just building the hooks into OS software mostly iOS and that the enterprise folks are going to run with this on their own with help from IBM and a sales bump to Apple.
It is obvious that iPhones are doing well in American corporations. A new iPhone, much like a fancy Mac was in my days of selling at Apple, is a pretty nice corporate perk. iPhones are tied down more than the Android world so there is some appeal to the corporate IT folks.
However, there are some substantial cultural barriers at Apple.
- As my example with smart cards illustrates, Apple often changes course for what seems to Apple like very good reasons. However, those changes are sometimes not communicated well and often the benefit is more in Apple's mind than to the customer who sometimes just wants things to work without having to jump through some new hoops.
- Apple really does not know how to listen to customer needs. It used to be a big part of the company's culture before Steve came back. It disappeared then. If you saw the procedure Apple uses to determine what features make it into an OS release, you would have a hard time not laughing. I hope but doubt it has changed much.
- Though the Yosemite Beta program is certainly a step in the right direction, I doubt we will see pre-release versions of iPhones being sent out to enterprises to make sure that new software and/or hardware does not break their software. Apple is built on surprise and secrets which are not favorites in the enterprise world.
- Enterprises really like companies that keep working on something until they get it fixed. Apple would rather invent something new than fix something old. That is truly part of the company's DNA.
- Enterprise sales are often built on long time relationships between executives and Apple does not do this well. One of our biggest challenges in selling to the federal government was that no Apple executive would say in public that the enterprise was important to Apple and that Apple would stick with its enterprise products. Beyond that Apple executives do not like to travel far beyond the safety of their offices in Cupertino. You have to make the pilgrimage to Cupertino. Enterprises want you to come to them. Unfortunately not enough comes out of Apple executive briefings to compensate for this Cupertino-centric approach.
The whole Xserve with the RAID product was supposed to a major push into the enterprise. They were great products but Apple had done little preparation for the selling and support of the products. They shipped the products, the field sort of figured out how to sell them and the diehard Apple customers helped us through the many product challenges. Apple actually did a training for the sales people after the Xserves had been selling and the people doing much of the training were the people in the field who had figured out the product's limitations. Apple was never willing to commit enough system engineer resourses to adequately support the products. Apple also made a major server architecture change to Intel. Changing processors pulled the rug out from under one of the largest Xserve customers who was using the Xserve product mostly because of the small heat footprint of its PowerPC processors. One might want to ask the VAR who got stuck with lots of outdated PowerPC Xserves about the reliability of Apple as a partner.
As to Apple listening to customers, I can still remember giving Tim Cook's Quicktime movies of enterprise customers talking about the difficulties they were having getting Macs to be good citizens on their Active Directory networks. After those made their way through the organization, I can remember Avie Tevanian flat out telling us that the customers did not know what they were talking about when they said Macs were not good Active Directory clients. In his mind there was no problem.
The solution to that problem was that I took one of my field system engineers and had him spend months writing an Active Directory plugin that got rolled into OS X. The employee is still writing OS software for Apple.
I was recently complaining to an Apple employee about all the incompatibilities between different versions of Pages. He assured me there were no problems. Yet I told him we live with problems almost on a daily basis because so much of our work over the years is in Pages 09 and there are always litle problems if we open the sixty page documents in newer versions. He said that Apple certainly did not expect enterprise employees to move to Pages but it was fine for small businesses. As someone in a small business, I might question that assessment.
Unfortunately the problem is not really Pages. It is Apple's attitude that it is okay to release a product that is not backwards compatible and then not even work at fixing it. If iPhoto can die for a "better" product, what changes might Apple spring on the enterprise just because it is going to make something better for Apple.
I am not holding up Microsoft as the perfect enterprise company, but the kind of we-are-going-to-fix-it attitude that took VISTA and made it into Windows 7 helps enterprise customers stay the course.
It is entirely possible that Apple's DNA has completely changed and this enterprise push will be the charm, but pardon me if I remain a skeptic for a couple of years.
For more on the world of Apple enterprise sales, check out my book, The Pomme Company. Of course this is not my first post on Apple and the enterprise. Feel free to visit, Once more into the trenches on Apple and the Enterprise or Lingering regrets from Apple days. I also stumbled across this post, Why the Apple-IBM tie-up is doomed to fail, and how it could succeed, by Jean-Louis Gassée.
As with most things Apple, time will tell better than any of us making guesses, but at least I have history on my side. That is my take on Apple and the enterprise from our spot which is almost as far as way from Cupertino as one can get and still be in the United States.
Our November Transformation at the coast is a much better prospect than hopping on an airplane and heading to one of the Apple Sales Conferences that are happening this time of year.
However, I will look forward to hearing how this new enterprise push is positioned internally. It should be entertaining.