Surprise! Apple has more enterprise savvy than Microsoft

IT likes to complain that Apple doesn't understand business, but the company's business presence continues to grow

You hear it all the time from IT staff: Apple doesn't understand enterprise needs, and as more and more users adopt Macs, iPhones, and iPads, you can see the froth emerging from their mouths. Apple changes its decade-old mobile connectors and it's evil incarnate. Apple releases iOS 6 and IT complains that 60 percent of users adopted it in the first week, before IT could qualify it. Apple releases new Macs and IT is sure users will order them without permission, leaving IT unable again to validate them. Then there are the dangers of iTunes, iCloud, and Bonjour -- all designed to destroy IT's carefully planned information architecture and security model. Those damned iToys!

Boo hoo.

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The reality is very different than these IT folks understand or will admit. They're pining over the slow death of what they know and love: BlackBerrys, Windows PCs, three-year product road maps, and five-year rollout strategies. Apple killed the BlackBerry with the iPhone; it's killing Windows PCs (thanks in no small part to Microsoft) with iPads and Macs; the new iPad Mini promises to bring the tablet revolution to field forces and further change the tools wielded by information workers; and Apple has made a mockery of Soviet-style planning schedules with its annual iOS releases, constant update model in its App Store, frequent but unpredictable hardware updates, and biennial or faster OS X updates.

Worse for these IT folks, Microsoft seems to have adopted the Apple way in some areas. Yes, we got nine months to test and observe the train wreck that is Windows 8, but very few people saw a Surface tablet before it shipped -- as if it were an iPad!

But step back a moment and see what Apple has actually done that is enterprise-savvy. You'll notice that Apple has focused on the so-called front office, the tools that users work with, and it's done so in ways that are programmatic, secure, and enterprise-enabling. Many in IT seem to miss that, concentrated instead on their data centers and servers rather than the frontline technologies that drive profit and growth.

iOS brought mobile security to the masses

When iOS 4 was released in summer 2010, it supported Microsoft's Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) policies and offered additional security and management APIs of its own. Thanks to iOS 4, any business of any size could impose on mobile device users basic controls, such as encryption, password enforcement, and remote lock and wipe. Suddenly, the most popular email server in use could automatically apply these protections to any iOS device that tried to access the network, authorized or not. IT should have been ecstatic -- the beloved BlackBerry Enterprise Server couldn't do that.

Likewise, the extra APIs gave rise to the entire mobile device management (MDM) industry, which has let enterprises apply controls more granularly where believed to be necessary. Is it any wonder that the iPhone is now the dominant business platform? But Apple's adoption of EAS and creation of a vibrant MDM market did more than secure Apple devices: Google's Android followed suit, if not as strongly, creating a cross-platform management capability that had never before existed. Even RIM adopted that approach in its BlackBerry PlayBook tablet and forthcoming BlackBerry 10 smartphones, while keeping a version of BES that lets IT straitjacket users to its heart's content.

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