Macs dent the enterprise, but not by much

Thanks in part to the corporate BYOD movement, Apple's AppleCare service and support plan, and just plain old demand, enterprises are more steadily adopting Macs in their organizations. Those factors, coupled with Apple's partnership with IBM last year to develop a set of business apps for the iPhone and iPad, are leading Apple to make strides in the enterprise. That said, industry observers don't believe Macs will be overtaking PCs anytime soon.

"Really, they're making strides because users are demanding them and organizations want to be able to say 'yes' more than in the past,'' says Michael Silver, a research vice president at Gartner. It's part user satisfaction, "and costs have come down, depending on the model you look at."

Compared with a high-end Intel-based notebook, Apple's pricing for a MacBook Air can still be fairly competitive, he says. But even with the efforts Apple has made to be more enterprise-friendly there are still a number of critical Windows apps users need to run, which Silver says continues to be an issue. This is particularly true of infrastructure software on the server side, with which the end-user machines need to be connected, such as Active Directory.

Gartner's worldwide device shipment forecast indicates that PCs are still in demand. In 2015, 251 million units of traditional PCs (desktops and notebooks) were expected to ship, compared with 49 million ultramobile premium devices, which include Windows 8 Intel x86 products and MacBook Airs. However, the number of PCs is expected to decline to 243 million units in 2016 and 233 units in 2017, while ultramobile shipments are anticipated to rise to 68 million units in 2016 and 89 million units by 2017, according to the firm.

"If we are talking about the enterprise market, Apple has not been doing extremely well there,'' notes Rajani Singh, a senior research analyst at IDC. "It has a very loyal consumer base, but enterprise is where Apple has to pick up little bit." Between 2011 and 2014, Apple sold between 3 million and 3.3 million commercial units in the U.S., according to IDC.

"Moving forward we are expecting some growth in the single digits, but it will not be dramatic in the U.S. enterprise or commercial segment,'' Singh says of Macs. "It will be small and steady."

She attributes that to the fact that Macs are still expensive, noting that a Mac notebook can cost over $1,000. Lack of user experience with the OS X operating system is another hindrance since Windows-based devices have been the standard in the enterprise for so long, according to Singh. "The last thing any employee would like to do is add another layer of stress by learning a new operating system,'' and have to take training classes, she maintains. "The U.S. enterprise segment is extremely conservative and doesn't want to experiment with new operating systems; they like to stick with what they have."

This is also the reason why Windows 8 didn't do well, Singh adds, since it was too different from Windows 7. However, she expects Windows 10 to be a game changer because its functionality and user experience will be similar to Windows 7.

Users "want to upgrade to something better, but they don't want to change form factors and operating systems,'' says Singh.

Freedom to choose

Even so, many organizations say they are offering Macs to employees as another option in addition to PCs.

Career site introduced Macs into the enterprise about two years ago after previously offering them primarily to staff doing creative work, says CIO Roger Fugett. Today, of about 2,850 employees 22% use Macs.

"In the early days we leveraged the ability for choice as a way to attract and retain top talent, primarily around the engineering side," Fugett says, so software developers and engineers would be able to have a say in the type of tools they could use. "Giving employees a choice is what moved it forward, and then we offered Macs to any employee at the time of hire."

When they first started offering employees their choice of device, Fugett says, he was surprised by the number of people who were already using PCs who turned to Macs -- including engineers -- a move he attributes to the fact that so many people use Apple devices outside of work. About 70% of IT people use Macs.

However, there are some types of work where Macs are not a good fit because of "dependencies on software that doesn't play as nice," Fugett says. But for the most part Apple is getting better with interoperability "so Macs are not something we're trying to keep out."

Parity with Microsoft Office is a challenge, he notes. For example, PowerPoint doesn't have the same feature set on a Mac as on a PC. "If I try to develop a PowerPoint with certain animations it doesn't work the same on a Mac -- it's easier on Windows," he says.

But custom apps that used to be developed strictly for Internet Explorer now support multiple platforms, he says.

Fugett doesn't believe Apple is doing much development around business applications and says CareerBuilder remains a Windows shop. "There is nothing really that Apple has triggered to drive more adoption internally. There's definitely things they're doing that help with our IT support for Macs -- and how they continue to innovate around machines and battery life is what drives more adoption."

Apple has become better at addressing some of their challenges, namely, a Wi-Fi connectivity issue CareerBuilder was struggling with, which Fugett says had to do with drivers. Even though vendors were "pointing fingers" at each other, Apple helped them work through it, he says.

Apple also released its Device Enrollment Program (DEP) for the enterprise, which he says pushes updates to users' machines automatically. "That will allow us to get to the point where, if a new employee selects a Mac, they get it shrink-wrapped" and will only have to open it up and connect to the CareerBuilder store. "DEP allows us to configure what we need it to do, so all the software specific to CareerBuilder is on there."

Cost is still a factor

At Charlotte Russe, a mall-based retailer of apparel and accessories for young women and teens, users "have to make a case" for why they want a Mac over a PC, says Debra Jensen, senior vice president and CIO. Typically, Macs are given to the marketing and creative teams, she says, and Macs still comprise a very small portion of their devices. Of about 320 employees, some 25 use Macs.

"When we first deployed them to specific users we always had to have a PC in that department to do other things that a Mac couldn't do, like a particular business application ... which was kind of a pain," Jensen says.

"My biggest complaint is they're so much more expensive so I make people justify it if they want them,'' she says. "We don't tell them it's an option, but if they make a big deal about it, then we make them justify" why they want one.

Support has not been an issue since she has an IT staffer who is well-versed in using Macs, Jensen says. "I think if they were more broadly deployed we'd have more issues because the people who have them today are mainly in marketing and don't have business apps; the work they're doing is more creative."

She suspects if Apple made apps like SAP, JDA Merchandising and Oracle, "I suspect we'd see more issues because of compatibility. Those apps were all written in the day of big business-class apps, and were never written with Apple as a device to access them."

Macs for all

Macs are key to the business of The CDM Group, a global healthcare communications company, and have been used for a long time since they are "a much more appropriate device for creation and animation," says Jo Ann Saitta, chief digital officer.

In the past couple of years since she has been with the company, MacBook Pros and MacBook Airs are "our go-to device for pretty much all our departments." Some 1,000 Macs are used, representing 81% of their workforce, she says.

The company's creative teams use Keynote presentation software and Pages layout software, both of which come with every Mac, to develop presentations for clients' brand concepts, she says. The CDM Group also utilizes remote access technologies and built-in Mac applications including AirDrop, Contacts, and Calendar to manage client relationships.

Beyond creation and animation, Macs are used by account teams and software development teams. But Saitta acknowledges that Macs are still not ideal for accounting functions, especially those that require "heavy crunching" in Excel.

Depending on their job function, employees can request a PC over a Mac, she says. In the past year, the company has migrated away from the PC as the de facto computer ordered for new employees. "We're not finding the power from the PCs in being able to demonstrate and load as much digital, animation and images, and have them perform at a quality and speed" needed both internally and for when employees do presentations to clients, Saitta says.

In fact, the company has also begun using Apple Minis because they are "super-powerful for our heaviest video and 3D renderings."

Using virtual machines can help

Macs are also used by the majority of employees at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital Oakland, says Phillip Bollinger, senior systems analyst. "Apple's been very smart in creating their own ecosystem and people like being in that ecosystem, so if you have an iPhone and an iPad you want the same kind of computer,'' he maintains. He's seen deployment go from a ratio of 60% Macs to 40% PCs to70% Macs and 30% PCs.

"There are a lot of scientists that have been buying Macs and putting VMware on them if they have a couple of Windows apps they need to run." The Windows apps needed are typically scientific in nature, Bollinger says. "I took this job for that reason ... I have always loved Macs and used them in my personal life." He said he didn't highlight his experience supporting Macs in previous jobs because "a lot of people perceived it was playing with toys."

The hospital administration staff, as well as IT and admin support staff, pretty much all use Macs, he says. In addition to support, another hat Bollinger wears is IT purchasing and says he often is asked by scientists to get quotes for them on Macs. "We look at what is the best option for each person,'' he says. "Some people absolutely want to run Windows and some absolutely want Macs. And sometimes getting both to work on the network is entertaining."

The tools for Macs have gotten increasingly better, he notes, and the hospital uses a plug-in tool called Access Connect (formerly ExtremeZ-ip) from Acronis, which allows Mac users to access Windows files.

Support and service have long been the Achilles' heels for Apple, but Bollinger says they haven't found that to be a problem -- their Apple enterprise support agreement "is amazingly good."

He likes that Macs are not as big a target for viruses as PCs. The only negative he has found using a Mac is that "every once in a blue moon there will be a piece of scientific software that is Windows-only."

Macs' longer-term prospects

Users say it remains to be seen whether Apple will win the enterprise. Charlotte Russe's Jensen says that as long as Macs remain a third more expensive than PCs, she doesn't see it happening in her company. "It's really a cost issue,'' she says.

But CareerBuilder's Fugett thinks the tide will turn. "It's nice seeing Microsoft challenged and we as consumers will benefit from that in the long run because they have a great software suite, and if they get that in exact parity on a Mac it would be great." He says he still runs into some issues using Office 365 on a Mac.

The driver for CareerBuilder continuing to offer a choice of PCs or Macs is "it sends the right message from leadership down that we are starting to change our development platform, which was primarily to develop on Windows machines and a .Net framework,'' Fugett says. "Then the industry started to change and began using more open-source coding, so it's become clearer that Mac would be a more effective development platform."

And Silver of Gartner says Apple's support still has a ways to go before it gains more traction in the enterprise. "It's still difficult to try to figure out when Apple is dropping support for a version because they're not transparent about it," he says.

Windows is typically supported for 10 years or longer, he says and even though Microsoft is moving "a little more toward the Apple model with a shorter lifespan for certain versions of Windows 10," it is addressing organizations' needs by having a release that will be supported for 10 years with minimal changes.

"Whereas Apple is clearly a consumer company moving at consumer speed," he observes, "Microsoft is trying to address the needs of consumers and business users by having both options."

Next: 15 years of OS X: How Apple's big gamble paid off

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