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Summary:

Apple is making strides with enterprise customers, according to a lot of recent surveys, but how does that look on the ground? Two recent examples include a program that’s bringing Macs to corporate heavyweight General Electric, and the ongoing rollout of iPads among local governments.

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Apple is making strides with enterprise customers, according to a lot of recent studies, but how does that look on the ground? Two recent examples include a program that’s bringing Macs to old-school corporate heavyweight General Electric, and the ongoing rollout of iPads at the level of local government.

GE seems a somewhat odd entity to be pioneering Mac deployment, since it still carries associations of being the lumbering giant and paragon of ’80s and ’90s big business it was under Jack Welch. But the company has a now one-year-old project that allows employees to choose either Mac or Windows PCs as their work computer, and according to the Wall Street Journal, it now has about 1,000 Macs in active use, with that number expected to rise.

That’s just a small fraction of GE’s 330,000 total computers, but it’s a start, and the gap will likely narrow as employees become aware of the program; GE hasn’t been trumpeting the news internally yet. For a rough comparison of where future adoption might take the Mac at GE, consider that 10,000 GE employees now use iPhones as their official work device, after the company began supporting them in 2008. There are 50,000 BlackBerry devices in use, but iPhones have made up considerable ground in four years time.

Private industry is one place Apple’s presence is growing, but it’s also having big impact in government. At the level of local government, especially, the idea of using iPads to take over some tasks and replace paper is catching on. Software provider Granicus recently released its iLegislate iPad app targeted specifically at government customers, and told us it’s already in use by over 1,500 governments.

One of iLegislate’s customers, the government of Maricopa, Ariz., says the use of iPads by 15 members of its local government, including the mayor, council members and city directors and managers, has allowed them to increase transparency by making more materials available to the public digitally, and save over $5,000 annually in printing costs, plus more in staff time just assembling print packages. Maricopa’s experience sounds strikingly similar to what we heard about Cornelius, N.C.’s findings following a pilot project of its own using the iPad as a tool for making local government more efficient.

Maricopa has experienced a whopping 4,000 percent growth in population during the past decade, and the iPad, partnered with the Granicus software, is seen by the city as a way to help quickly scale its infrastructure to cope with the expansion. Apple’s iPad holds appeal as a way to quickly cut costs, with a green, future-proof solution that can leverage IT initiatives already in place at governments.

  1. For years, Apple has ignored the extremely lucrative market of enterprise services to focus its efforts on providing premium consumer products. At this point, expansion into government and big business markets, though attractive from a potential profitability standpoint, does not seem like a well-reasoned growth strategy. Apple’s cloud model is struggling to compete with Amazon Web Services and Microsoft’s Azure platform, both of which offer greater security and ease of use than iCloud, which some worry is little more than a glorified revamp of Apple’s MobileMe service. At the same time, the company’s productivity suite iWork (composed of Pages, Numbers, and Keynote) lack the robust functionality and entrenched market acceptance of Microsoft Office as well as the accessibility and collaborative nature of Google Docs’s free productivity applications.

    Although the success of the iPhone and, increasingly, the iPad among business users point to what some are calling the “‘consumerification’ of the enterprise” (see http://kevinprentiss.com/?p=182), Apple has yet to effectively position itself as a legitimate enterprise competitor. Even the market for mobile devices in which Apple seemingly displays such innovative design and marketing prowess is currently led by Google’s Android operating system and faces an increasingly fierce competitor in Microsoft with the release of its latest Windows phones. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Apple lacks the infrastructure and the experience to provide enterprise clients with a critical element for success: customer support. Until Apple can effectively navigate these and other challenges facing its business division, any attempts at enterprise services growth are likely to be short-lived.

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