Apple in the Enterprise

Last week PSC was invited to participate in the global IT summit held by one of our clients.  We had a couple of hours to facilitate a discussion and to present our view on several topics.  One of the “hottest” discussions was centered around Apple in the organization.  Users (executives) want it, IT is afraid of it.

The ever expanding presence of Apple device in the enterprise cannot be denied.  And it is no longer just the creative and marketing departments that are using them.  People are increasingly becoming Mac, iPhone and now iPad users.  And if they have these devices available to them at home, they want to use them at the office.  When the company executives are asking to be able  to use them, the IT department is hard pressed to say no to them.

The IT response to Apple is fairly standard: we’re a Windows shop, we’re a BlackBerry shop, iPhone is not secure, I can’t join you to the Active Directory domain — in short, we don’t support Macs.  But that’s a position that is becoming increasingly hard to maintain, so I’m seeing more of my clients providing some form of support for Apple in their enterprise.

Once the IT gets over its initial fear of Macs, support for Apple devices generally come in two flavors: organizations either completely outsource all Apple support to a 3rd party Apple consulting shop or, if the Mac contingent is substantial enough, hiring staff dedicated to supporting Macs.

The one mistake a lot of IT departments make is trying to treat Apple computers the same way as they treat Windows machines, expecting them to require constant feeding and care, where the contrary is more of a case.  Macs generally don’t require a lot of maintenance and support.  Sure they experience occasional hardware issues, just like any piece of equipment would.  But on a day-to-day basis, Mac users don’t require a great deal of attention.  In fact, once these machines are setup and configured, they just sort of run.

Mac OS and software updates are much less frequent than those of Windows and are generally pretty safe, they don’t cause things to break.  Viruses are nearly non-existent in the Mac world.  Applications are easy to install and remove and they don’t step on each other, breaking an enterprise application with a newly installed piece of some freeware.

So unless you have a crazy power user who likes to poke around with command line parameters and explore hidden directories, having a few Macs in your organization is pretty safe and rather painless.

Macs are definitely not Windows and problems arise when you need Macs to run the same software, or you trying to make them function just like a Windows machine.  This happens  when you have a large number of Mac users and your software vendors offer none to limited support for them.  I’ve seen these situations with everything from common Microsoft Visio and Project products to SAP clients, IBM/Lotus Notes clients and Lotus Notes desktop managers (CooperTeam Desktop Manager and Panagenda’s Marvel Client).

When this happens you need to be prepared to offer your users compromises.  The options include the obvious of not buying software that doesn’t support Macs; running Windows (VMware Fusion, Parallels, Bootcamp) on the Mac; finding Mac-specific versions of software in question; offering Terminal services (Citrix or Windows) or, of course, simply not using a Mac.  Your particular answer will differ based on the situation, software or user in question.

In either case, you should be prepared that one day your users will ask to use a Mac at work.  And to keep your users happy, you should know how you’re going to answer that question.

The IT department is dead, long live utility computing

41iway4zsul_aa240_.jpg I came across this interesting article in Network World talking about a new Nicholas Carr book, which predicts that utility computing will replace internal IT departments. I haven’t read the book, but, according to the Network World review, it sounds that the book predicts as more and more applications move “into the cloud”, the need for your traditional IT department will diminish, if not disappear all together. Salesforce.com, Google Apps and Google Mail, hosted VoIP are just a few examples of applications “in the cloud”. Of course, as to be expected, an article like that sparked a heated debate with people solidly perched on either side of the fence.

As I started thinking, I found myself somewhere in the middle of this argument. On one hand, I can’t help but agree with Mr. Carr. Even today I see a number of SMBs even amongst my client base that run very minimal IT departments, preferring instead to outsource or to use hosted or off-premise solutions, such as hosted e-mail, hosted VoIP, etc. I can imagine how in the very near future, the available hosted applications will become more powerful, more available and more prevalent. Software-as-a-service is a very attractive proposition to an SMB company, allowing access from anywhere and removing the headache of having to maintain, secure, backup related server(s). At the same time, I know companies who, while administering their own servers and developing their own custom applications, prefer not to have a server room and host their servers elsewhere.

On the other hand, I’m having a hard time envisioning certain companies running with no server room at all. I know of companies now, who, although perfect candidates for hosted solutions, are so protective of their data that they will not even entertain the idea of having their servers reside in someone else’s data center. Companies also want their software to work the way THEY work, thus custom application development efforts.

So pondering Mr. Carr’s statements, I think that he’s only 50% – 60% accurate in his predictions. The IT departments will be changing, their role in the organization will be changing, perhaps, even their name will be changing, but they will remain in a large number of companies out there.

Applications ‘in the cloud” are very real and are having a very profound impact on how we think about software. Automated and remote administration tools are reducing the the number of what someone else had called three-finger-salute monkeys. The IT departments in the companies are becoming more skilled, more agile, demonstrating and demanding a higher level of expertise and abilities. The basic functions — server maintenance, backup, email, some desktop applications — can and will be outsourced or moved off premises. What will remain are the strategic functions of IT, parts of internal systems that are near and dear to the firm’s heart, components that define a given company’s competitive advantage.