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

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Quarter No. 3: Vendor characteristics

The plain fact is that some companies are easier to work with and provide stronger support than others. IBM, for example, typically gets high marks among the industry giants, while Oracle is on the other end of the spectrum. Microsoft at least tries, and Apple is, as already mentioned, not entirely in the game.

On the hardware side, those of us who've been around a while remember when Dell relocated its business support call center to a low-wage country 12 or so time zones away, with not fully prepared techs who were often linguistically challenged, all to save a few bucks. This drove lots of customers into the arms of competitors, even though Dell's technology hadn't changed a bit.

The ease of doing business is just one part of this equation. Another is vendor stability; in most situations, product quality won't matter if the vendor vanishes from the landscape -- or if the vendor sticks around but yanks the product and all support with little or no warning.

Then there's the product's marketplace position and momentum. Even products sold by large, financially stable vendors can become marketplace orphans -- rarely a good choice no matter how good the technology itself.

Quarter No. 4: Deal structure

IT cares about the deal: Initial pricing, the cost of ongoing support, and license terms and conditions -- especially land mines like terms that allow the vendor to change its license terms whenever it pleases, terms that don't allow companies to take their licenses with them if they're acquired by another company, and terms that don't let IT virtualize servers, even though there's no technical barrier to doing so (yes, I'm talking about Oracle again).

Taking it home

When you're responsible for the enterprise IT architecture -- a core duty for all internal IT organizations -- you're on the hook for making sure the company takes all of these factors (features and functionality, internal construction, vendor characteristics, and the deal structure) into account with every technology evaluation.

This is, by the way, a source of frustration for technology startups, which by their very nature tend to fall short when IT evaluates their financial stability and marketplace presence.

Where does this leave us with Apple and Microsoft? It leaves us understanding that IT needs to look beyond features and functionality, as well as beyond how Apple and Microsoft products compare with respect to their quality of construction.

That doesn't mean IT's requirements are the same for all products. While the quality of a vendor's technical support matters a great deal when the product being evaluated is a storage area network or content management system, it might matter a lot less for technologies that require minimal integration and whose sole use is to enhance personal effectiveness.

There is no single right answer or "best practice" that applies to every business. Everything depends on the context -- your context. But doesn't it always?

This story, "Features alone won't make Apple enterprise-ready," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Bob Lewis' Advice Line blog on InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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