The lessons IT must learn from Apple

Apple has wormed its way into the broad population, creating new expectations -- and a model -- for IT

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The difference between this "we know best" approach and the usual high-control IT organization is that Apple almost always makes the right choices, so users happily accept the covenants of their gated community. IT's choices typically ignore, misunderstand, or disrepect the user. For IT organizations where the desire to control is truly legitimate, they need to apply it in a way users will gladly accept -- to follow Apple's approach rather than ignore or fight it. A strategy of control for its own sake or of poorly executed control means they'll lose. Even if they win the battle, they lose the war as the business's staff over time becomes those willing to live in or build poor enviroments -- not the most competitive or creative set are they.

Dying technology is euthanized. When Apple decides something needs to die, it kills it. That's what happened with the floppy drive, then to all its proprietary ports, then to CDs, and most recently to Adobe Flash. PC users whine and point fingers, but their vendors eventually follow suit. Apple users simply deal and move on, perhaps after a brief compaint. That's something else IT should learn: Stop mollycoddling old technology that slows the company and complicates its technology maintenance. The short-term cost of change is lower than the long-term cost of avoidance.

Case in point: Interet Explorer 6 and ActiveX, Microsoft's proprietary, pre-AJAX method for delivering Web applications. When ActiveX was invented, it was a revelation and brought app know-how to the Internet. But it was tied to specific versions of the Microsoft browser and to the Windows platform. In the monocuture of the typical IT organization, that was great. But today, ActiveX introduces nightmarish complexity for IT, as different apps use different versions and require different IE releases -- but Windows can't run different versions of IT on the same PC, short of having multiple virtual machines, which adds even more complexity.

Microsoft has been trying to kill ActiveX and older IE versions for some time now, but they're too entrenched in custom IT apps and specialty apps for dentists, government agencies, and the like from tiny vendors with few development resources. It will continue to be supported even in the forthcoming Windows 8, worsening the problem.

The Apple approach would be to say that ActiveX is dead as of the next version of IE or Windows -- to deprecate it, in developer terms -- and mean it. All legacy ActiveX apps would go away. Knowing that was the case, IT would not let such legacy buildup occur in the first place. Certainly, as Apple products get more entrenched in the enterprise, IT will have to make that adjustment. Because Apple routinely deprecates old technology -- and rarely extends the transition period -- it will force the issue (for your own good, of course).

Adapt or die
I'm sure at some point Apple will lose its way and what has been a remarkable 20-plus years of innovation under its second Steve Jobs era will come to a close. We've seen other companies -- Adobe Systems, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Microsoft -- devolve into tired, dysfunctional companies with no real innovative spark or drive beyond making the numbers at any long-term cost. There's a theory at MIT that says this happens to all companies, though some can turn back the clock and reclaim the old magic if their leadership can force the issue. IBM and Apple are two recent tech industry examples; under its founders, HP had been one as well.

If that were to happen, it's years down the line, and anyone in IT hoping Apple will go away is more likely to be the one who splits. A better approach would be to figure out what Apple is doing right to serve and engage customers, and replicate what is possible within IT. If you do so, you won't worry about shadow IT, disrespect, irrelevance, or consumerization -- you'll be co-captaining a better company.

This article, "The lessons IT must learn from Apple," was originally published at Read more of Galen Gruman's Smart User blog at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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