Features alone won't make Apple enterprise-ready

IT doesn't just buy products. It enters into relationships with vendors, looking beyond features to find the right fit

In a recent article, my colleague Galen Gruman extolled Apple's enterprise savvy. I'm not going to argue with him about the enterprise readiness of Apple's technology -- for one reason, he knows a lot more about Apple technology than I do.

While the enterprise readiness of Apple's technology is a worthwhile subject, from enterprise IT's perspective, whether Apple the company is prepared to support enterprise customers also matters a lot. Given Apple's history of flip-flops with respect to its direct support of business customers and its love 'em/hate 'em/love 'em again relationship with its third-party distributors, the answer is far less likely to be in the affirmative.

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It isn't just Apple. Throughout the entire enterprise technical architecture, vendor characteristics matter just as much as the technology they sell.

The PC revolution all over again?

Here's a bit of background: In the early days of the personal computer, starting with PC-DOS all the way through Windows 98, Microsoft succeeded in the enterprise in much the way Apple is succeeding right now. It wasn't exactly consumerization, but it certainly wasn't the result of active IT sponsorship. No, PCs came in subversively, as a renegade revolt against centralized IT's control of the company's computing assets.

In those days, Microsoft's support for enterprise IT was distinctly limited, and why would it have been any better? Enterprise IT wasn't its customer -- it was the opponent.

That all changed with Windows NT and Microsoft's decision to invade the data center. To its credit, Microsoft figured out that an enterprise-oriented product line, sold to enterprise IT, carried with it a responsibility to provide enterprise-class support. For better or worse, Microsoft stopped supporting technology subversion and started supporting enterprise IT, not only with its products but with its whole approach to sales and services.

From what I've been told by the CIOs I talk to, Apple has yet to reach a similar conclusion, probably because, like the early Microsoft, it doesn't count anyone inside the IT organization as its customers.

Looking beyond features and functionality

If we make this about Apple vs. Microsoft, we'll inevitably end up with a muddled understanding of how vendors matter to enterprise IT. The Apple/Microsoft situation has become as tribal as American politics -- too many in the industry start with which side they're on, then find reasons to justify their side of choice.

Let's broaden our horizons then. Enterprise IT either leads or is actively engaged in the evaluation of a broad range of technologies -- not just in the front office where Apple and Microsoft contend, but everywhere. No matter what's being evaluated, features and functionality -- what the product does and how it does it -- is only one-fourth of what matters in choosing the optimal solution for the business. That leaves three other quarters to deal with.

Quarter No. 2: Internal construction

Business managers and users care about features and functionality, as does IT, but IT also cares how well products are put together and what platforms they're built on.

If it's an application, this evaluation includes everything from whether the development tools the vendor uses are mainstream to whether the underlying database adheres to the principles of data normalization to what provisions the product provides for supportable customization.

If it's a database management system, matters such as stability and performance are in this quarter. It also includes whether it runs on IT's standard operating systems and virtualization technologies, likewise the product's manageability, and -- last but certainly not least -- how secure it is.

This quarter is where IT and the rest of the business most often find themselves in conflict, because ... well, this is obvious, isn't it? Business users care about features most of all, while IT wants something it can support, keep from crashing, and integrate into the rest of the company's applications and information portfolios.

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