IT Management Services

Meet JAMF: It bet on Apple when the world was Windows

When JAMF Software started writing code for its systems management software for Apple devices it thought it would serve a niche within a niche: companies that preferred Apple devices in their workplaces and had enough of them to require an admin console. Fast-forward to today and it looks like a prescient, maybe brilliant, strategic direction as JAMF’s Casper suite has grown and Apple has ghosted back into corporate acceptance.

Apple’s return to prominence is one of the great business stories. A company that had ousted one of its founders, Steve Jobs, sunk to almost minnow status in the 1990s and then on Jobs’ return became the world’s most valuable enterprise. Of course, most of that bounce-back has been due to consumer success but the rise of bring-your-own-device schemes, new ways of working and the brilliance of Apple’s products have also seen the company become a force in the enterprise. Today, alliances with the likes of IBM give it a shot of becoming as big in the everyday enterprise as it is elsewhere.

That’s a heck of a turnaround for a company that was once described by one idiot as having become as relevant in business as makers of mouse mats.

“Everybody is looking for a little romance in their lives but the next time you hear some doe-eyed dreamer telling you that Apple could be big again, do us all a favour and give the poor sap a sharp kick,” the fool added.

Reader, that idiot was me.

“We started before anyone saw the success of Apple coming,” says Chip Pearson, CEO of Minneapolis-based JAMF. “In the time we got started the iPod was launched and first Apple store was getting opened in Virginia. No-one thought Apple was going to do anything. If you were going to put money into tech you’d have put it into Windows first, Linux second and Apple only third.”

Pearson and his co-founder were two of a small crop of people running sizeable Apple installations. He was at the American telco US West when publishing Yellow Pages business directories were still a huge deal. At the time, publishing was one of the very few strongholds left for Apple computers and Mac software.

“Before Google, [directories were] how you found things in business-to-business and it was a tremendously lucrative business and we had 6,000 Macs. But the [management] tools were really nascent and not orchestrated or comprehensive.”


What of the broad systems management suites?

“There’s always been this promise of this one single pane of glass to rule them all but, unfortunately, support for the Mac has been advertised but not invested in. it’s been the stepchild at best, if not the beggar. We made the decision that if we had to tend bar at night to do this in the day, we’d do that.”

Pearson says that what is consistent is that Apple has always appealed to sectors where the content is the intellectual property – companies that make movies, books, magazines, software and so on. JAMF quickly became a hit, responding to the minority community of companies that had a need for Apple management tools and listening carefully to that community’s feedback.                                             

Back then the consensus was that even if Apple could keep its mojo among enthusiasts and the cadre of folks who loved its approach, it would never cut it in the command-and-control world of enterprise IT. But Pearson suggests this was one of the many areas where Apple’s leader was farsighted.

“One of the theories Jobs put forward was that they didn’t have an enterprise strategy the way a normal company would. His theory was the enterprise is filled with individual people and individual people will make their own choices.

In the ‘90s, Microsoft succeeded in the home market by succeeding in the work market and it really worked. It almost seems Apple has run with the inverse of that: ‘if we get people at home, they’ll bring it to work’.”

Another phenomenon not many people saw coming was that there would be downward pressure from executives who had been converted by their friends or kids and would then take that newfound enthusiasm into the workplace. And then there was the “emotive connection we make with technology” and Apple’s success in removing barriers from completing tasks.

“If you’re writing a novel you’re writing a novel, not using a word-processor,” Pearson says of the Apple ethos.

While many CIOs have been dragged kicking and screaming into having Apple as a corporate citizen on its computer systems, Pearson reckons that progressive CIOs have always ‘got it’ and could deal with no longer having regimented estates of clones.

“The smarter ones always knew they were there to support the business and not run the business. Regimentation and standards I absolutely agree with, but what oftentimes got forgotten was ‘what does the business need?’ and when IT said ‘no’ they would find other ways, maybe a bit subversively, to get it done.”

That backlash is maturing today into equilibrium, Pearson believes, and he sees many “more stodgy” companies today deploying Apple across large estates.

Apologising for the pun, he adds, “People haven’t really picked up on it yet but more companies are taking big bites at the apple.”

He also challenges the old canard that Apple is a pricey alternative to PCs.

“The logic that persisted was to look at the sticker price and say ‘this is half as much’ but if we look at the longevity, how long the refresh cycles are, the repair costs and when you stack it up…”

Despite this he’s no zealot and says he doesn’t know if we’ll end up in a corporate world where Apple is de facto. He certainly doesn’t think Microsoft is going to go away and can see peaceful coexistence where Microsoft Office 365 and Active Directory and other back-end services sit happily with Apple hardware, software and services. After all, Microsoft and Apple have long worked together even if Bill Gates and his friend Steve Jobs took divergent paths.

“Apple is focused on making really good products and they think the rest of this will be figured out.”

Apple’s success has helped JAMF to grow too of course and the company that started out in Minnesota with modest expectations now expects to have about 500 staff by end of year while growing at about 45% on the back of its tools and associated support services. It’s also profitable, Pearson says, and with premises in Wisconsin, Cupertino, Manhattan, Hong Kong and Sydney the sun never sets on support.

Whatever remaining quibbles people might have about Apple’s enterprise credentials, it’s hard to argue with Pearson when he says that the company seems to have done alright without whatever sceptics think is missing.

There are other platforms out there these days competing for the business dollar, not least Google/Android, but many years after some commentators thought Cupertino’s favourites were toast, Pearson says his focus is clear.

“I’d rather go broke with Apple,” he quips.


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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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