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Despite the ubiquity of its products in businesses, opinions on Apple enterprise support and services remain mixed amidst efforts to pluck fruit from the enterprise IT tree.
Apple is making plays to sell its products and services to major corporations with dedicated sales and development personnel, according to a Reuters report. This follows its partnership with IBM, but that's yet to yield any of the more than 100 iOS, industry-specific enterprise applications that the alliance promised.
Apple has work to do if it's going to make an enterprise push successful, said Michael Oh, founder of Tech Superpowers Inc., an IT managed service provider and Apple reseller based in Boston.
Michael Ohfounder, Tech Superpowers
Part of the skepticism comes from the level of support customers can expect directly from the company. For example, Apple's new AppleCare for Enterprise touts support for iOS productivity applications like Pages, Keynote and Numbers. For most enterprises, supporting just those apps isn't going to cut it.
"Even if you support those things as part of the package, this isn't Joe Consumer," Oh said. "[Enterprises are] running Office … There is still a disconnect between Apple's attitude toward what services they need to provide for enterprise and the realities of enterprise."
There's another service, Joint Venture, meant to provide Apple enterprise support to small and medium-sized businesses with Apple products that is similar to an Apple Store. But that doesn't provide a level of cross-platform support enterprises may expect, especially for applications not produced by Apple, Oh said.
"We have some clients that have worked with the service and don’t like it because [Apple limits] the coverage to the Apple ecosystem almost solely," Oh said. "You have to provide app-level support for that [enterprise] environment and that is something I haven’t really seen Apple come to the table with yet."
Oh was unaware of any attempt by Apple to make its enterprise push through partners like Tech Superpowers.
Conversely, one reseller in California has seen the push by Apple through its channel for enterprises.
Apple has been "very flexible in working with us and figuring out how they can increase their share in the enterprise," said Naveed Khan, director of vendor management for Apple reseller En Pointe Technologies, a hardware and software fulfillment and support services provider in Gardena, Calif.
Apple provides programs to customers that can be offered through partners like En Pointe, including the Device Enrollment Program (DEP). Corporate-owned devices can be quickly enrolled in device management platforms automate those environments wirelessly.
There has been a period of adjustment for Apple as its moves from selling mostly to consumers to also selling to enterprises through channel partners. Apple doesn't have the long enterprise history that companies like Dell and HP have, Khan said.
"Apple is trying to figure out, 'How do we make this market lucrative for channel, to get them to buy in?'" Khan said.
En Pointe Technologies hasn't run into enterprise customers dealing with the support issues Oh outlined, while Khan acknowledged most enterprises are heterogeneous when it comes to hardware and software.
Apple picks up enterprise steam
Concerns about direct Apple enterprise support haven't kept organizations from buying iOS devices. When it comes to purchasing corporate-liable devices for employees, one recent survey shows iPhones have made significant gains.
In August, a 451 Research LLC ChangeWave survey of 1,544 IT decision-makers showed 75% of respondents planned to purchase iPhones for their employees at some point within the next quarter.
That's up 12% from the same survey a year ago and is the highest percentage any smartphone has received in the survey since its inception in November 2008, said Chris Hazelton, research director for mobile and wireless at 451 Research.
Organizations see how productive end users can be on devices they like and want to facilitate that productivity, Khan said.
"Companies are looking at consumerization and Apple is definitely riding that wave," Khan said.
The IBM partnership means Apple will have a proven enterprise entity to help sell its devices and services directly to enterprises. Existing EMM platforms from all the major vendors like VMware, Citrix, IBM, MobileIron, Inc. and Good Technology, Inc. already support iOS regardless of whether devices are BYOD or corporate-liable, Hazelton said.
"Whether or not Apple comes in and steps into [enterprises on its own], there is a population of players in the space that are there to support Apple in the enterprise," Hazelton said.
It's difficult for customers to assess the impact of the IBM partnership without any details. Some Tech Superpowers clients are interested in what the partnership will bear, Oh said.
"Because there is such little info provided -- no screen shots, no nothing -- as a product service release, it's basically fluff," Oh said. "It's a press release with nothing else behind it."
Outside of the application partnership, IBM is enhancing its MaaS 360 mobile device management platform from Fiberlink Communications Corp. to aid organizations that purchase applications through Apple's Volume Purchase Program.
Apple did not respond to a request for comment.