How Apple played hard to get and seduced the enterprise

There was a time when you wouldn't mention the words "Apple" and "enterprise" in the same breath. Apple sold to consumers and didn't much care about catering to the enterprise. But the iPhone and iPad changed all that.

Active Interest Media, which publishes magazines like American Cowboy, Black Belt and Vegetarian Times, always had a somewhat liberal "bring your own device" policy for employees.

But, "when the iPhone grew in popularity, it became apparent to us that we should be proactive in managing these devices as data was going beyond the bounds of the office," says IT Director Nelson Saenz.

Is Apple really targeting enterprise mobility?

AIM selected a mobility management tool from Good Technology to handle messaging - email, contacts, and calendar - for both Apple iOS and Android platforms. Good for Enterprise also provides an app that lets employees use Microsoft SharePoint on their smartphones.

"Now we have a centralized management console, so we don't have to turn away users if they want to use their iPhones, but at the same time IT has the peace of mind of being able to manage these devices and set policies and have granular structure from a security standpoint," he says.

Saenz adds that while use of the iPhone at AIM grew organically, the iPad tablet was eagerly embraced after its release last April, with the company purchasing them for executives.

AIM's experience isn't unique. Speaking at Apple's quarterly earnings conference call in January, acting CEO Tim Cook said, "The iPad started shipping in April, and we are already up to 80% of the largest companies deploying or piloting the product. This is unheard of, at least in my dealings with the enterprise over the years. Generally enterprises are much slower, much more cautious and use things that have been in the market for a long time."

Data from Good Technology bears out this trend. In a study released in January, Good reported that among its thousands of corporate and government customers - including more than 40 of the Fortune 100 - nearly two-thirds of net new activations in the fourth quarter were for mobile devices running on Apple's iOS. The financial and healthcare industries in particular are rapidly adopting Apple's tablet computer, according to the survey.

Chris Hazelton, mobile and wireless research director for The 451 Group in Boston, says three things are driving iPad's adoption in the enterprise: the increasing number of APIs from mobile device management vendors, the fact that Apple included application-level encryption in iOS 4, and Apple's Developer Enterprise Program, which (for $299 a year) allows companies to build their own "proprietary, non-public applications that can be pushed out to their employees and managed by MDM vendors."

All of which leaves Apple in a position to do something it hasn't been able or willing to do in 30 years - sell to corporate America. Good Technology predicts that "in 2011 the iPad, along with other tablets, will be increasingly purchased and deployed by enterprises to meet specific business needs.''

Attempting to seize this opportunity, Apple has begun poaching mobile enterprise sales executives from Research in Motion (RIM). The Wall Street Journal reported last November that since mid-2009, five RIM executives defected to Cupertino, including Geoff Perfect, head of strategic sales, and Joe Bartlett, senior global sales manager.

Apple also announced on March 3 a new program aimed at supporting small businesses that purchase Macs. The service includes support for iPhones, iPads and iPods.

Bad romance

This newfound love-fest between Apple and the enterprise has been the result of a softening of positions on both sides.

There was a time not long ago when you wouldn't mention the words "Apple" and "enterprise" in the same breath. Other than a handful of Macs for the graphics department, Apple products pretty much were non-existent in most enterprises.

Not that Apple seemed to care. Apple long ago had established its brand identity as a creator of personal electronics, and it almost was if Apple, with its devoted following of gushing fanboy consumers, thought it was too cool for the staid and sterile enterprise.

Sure, once in a great while the Cupertino gang would lob a product into the corporate market - the Apple III business computer in 1980, the Xserve rack server in 2002 - but these forays were infrequent and generally unsuccessful.

15 biggest fails for techies who bought the wrong gear too early

"The company's efforts and focus on the enterprise have been extremely erratic," says Charles King, president of IT industry analysis firm Pund-IT.

Love at first bite

In 2007, Apple released the iPhone, which was an instant hit with its target market -- consumers. Then something perhaps even Apple hadn't expected happened. Many of these iPhone owners liked their device so much they insisted on using them at work instead of their corporate-issued BlackBerrys.

"The iPhone enabled Apple to enter a door into the enterprise," says The 451 Group's Hazelton. "But that door has been open by employees already using the device."

Which Apple didn't quite get - or appreciate -- at the time. The iPhone was built for consumers who wanted to text, surf the Web and download games. (And sometimes make a call.) Nobody at Apple was worried about things like enterprise data leakage and business applications.

InformationWeek in July 2007 wrote that the "iPhone remains a closed system that doesn't allow install-it-yourself applications," calling the Apple device's design "a red flag to businesses that use a variety of apps and consequently need more flexibility than Apple's giving."

"When the iPhone initially came out, it did not have customized apps available, and there was no SDK (software developers' kit)," says Aberdeen Group senior research analyst Andrew Borg.

But Apple soon realized it had a lucrative new market to explore and quickly remedied the situation, in its own uniquely Apple way.

Romancing the phone

"Apple comes out with iPhone 3 (in July 2008), and at the same time it announced an SDK and a whole ecosystem, the App store," Borg says. "It changed the game again overnight. A small percentage of apps were for the enterprise, but when you're talking about 10 billion apps (downloaded from the App Store), that percentage represents a significant number."

Then, less than a year ago, Apple unveiled the iPad. This time, consumer and corporate America swooned, and what was now being referred to as the "consumerization of the enterprise" reached another level. By the end of 2010, Apple had sold more than 15 million iPads, many directly to corporations.

Still, for enterprise managers leery of having "unauthorized" devices connected to their network -- accessing email, other documents, databases -- Apple's mobile invasion of the enterprise has created new challenges.

Traditionally enterprise managers could rely on software and support directly from the vendors supplying the devices. For example, RIM offers a BlackBerry Enterprise Server for IT managers to securely allow enterprise executives access to corporate email and other documents using their RIM smartphones.

But that's not the way Apple operates. Apple didn't want to develop its own management and security tools, and between the SDK and the emergence of mobile device management vendors such as Good Technology, it doesn't have to.

In December 2009, Good began offering enterprise mobility management tools for devices running on Apple's iOS mobile operating system (as well as devices running on Google's Android).

Good for Enterprise enables IT administrators to manage all mobile devices from a Web-based portal, allowing them to control which applications users can access from their personal iPhones, as well as which applications must be running before the user can get a secure connection. And if a device is lost or stolen, the platform allows IT managers to remotely wipe it clean of corporate data.

"Our security and management framework basically allows the enterprise to consistently control the Good client so they can enforce policies and guarantee that the data within that client is not leaving that environment and being copied over into other applications," said John Herrema, senior vice president of corporate strategy for Good.

Good accomplishes all of this without interfering with the personal features of a worker's iPhone, Herrema said, by deploying a "container" on the device "in which all the business data and access is controlled and managed within that container. And what that allows for the rest of the device, the user can just do whatever they want to do in deploying their personal applications and so on."

It takes two to tango and enterprise IT still needed to loosen up and allow these new consumer devices onto the network. For the most part, that's starting to happen.

But, of course, not all companies are on board with this new laissez-faire attitude. For example, in a recent interview with Network World, Wells Fargo said it bans all personal devices.

"They can't connect them to our networks," says Wayne Mekjian, executive vice president and CIO of information services at Wells Fargo. "We won't let them in." The "just say no" policy applies to Apple iPads, Android tablets and smartphones owned by employees.

Like any long-running romance, there are lots of ups and downs when it comes to Apple and enterprise IT. But as Apple's Cook puts it: "I think the most forward-looking CIOs are coming to the realization that the productivity of the person, the creativity of the employee, is materially more important than everyone using the same thing.''

And even AIM's Saenz agrees that letting users bring in whatever devices they want isn't for everybody. "There are going to be environments where security and the extreme locking down of devices will always take precedence over anything else," he says.

Nerney is a freelance writer who covers technology, social media and fitness. He writes the Tech Business Today blog for ITworld and can be contacted here.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

The 10 most powerful companies in enterprise networking 2022