Apple's final frontier: The enterprise

By David Goldman, staff writer


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Apple became the most valuable technology company by winning over the hearts and minds of consumers. But until recently, corporate customers have been an afterthought.

Not anymore.

Small businesses and large corporations alike are beginning to embrace Apple by supporting and purchasing iPhones, iPads and Macintosh computers for their employees and by creating applications for their customers' Apple devices.

Tim Cook, Apple's (AAPL, Fortune 500) chief operating officer, noted on a July conference call with analysts that 50% of Fortune 100 companies are already deploying or thinking about using the iPad for corporate use and 80% were supporting the iPhone.

Adoption from the so-called enterprise market is far lower for Macs, but also growing. Although 75% of businesses have a Mac on the premises, only 25% of companies have a "significant" number of Macs (30 or more), according to a survey conducted by tech sector analysis firm ITIC.

Just 7% of companies have at least 250 Macs, though that's up significantly from only 2% in 2008. By 2013, ITIC forecasts that number will jump to 16%.

Google (GOOG, Fortune 500), Cisco (CSCO, Fortune 500), Oracle (ORCL, Fortune 500), Facebook, Hyatt Hotels, Bausch & Lomb and Salesforce.com are among the higher-profile companies that have switched much of their IT infrastructure to Apple products.

Macs have long had a place in the office, though they were typically relegated to the graphics and marketing teams. But IT departments are reporting a growing trend, in which employees across the whole company are starting to ask for Apple products to be supported. Tech managers are starting to cave in.

ITIC's survey found that 79% of IT departments say they'll allow more employees to use Macs in 2011, and 82% will increase iPhone integration for e-mail and applications.

"More employees are saying they want these [Apple] devices ... and IT departments can't stay rigid anymore," said Laura DiDio, principal analyst at ITIC.

At Salesforce.com (CRM), the company encountered what Kraig Swensrud, senior vice president of marketing, described as a "massive spike" in employee demand for Macs several years ago.

That led the company to eventually begin letting its staff decide if they wanted a Mac or a Windows-based Dell (DELL, Fortune 500), and an iPhone or a BlackBerry.

Though the majority of Salesforce's employees still prefer PCs and BlackBerrys, Swensrud said the trend is shifting more towards Apple devices. He said the company's Apple-friendly policy has even turned out to be an effective recruiting tool, as many job applicants are infatuated with Apple.

"We are competing against other high tech giants for the best and brightest, and supporting Apple allows us to compete in the local job market more effectively," said Swensrud.

Hyatt's (H) IT department encountered a similar situation. Employees of the hotel chain, including its chief operating officer, said they wanted support for the iPhone and other Apple products.

Hyatt began offering employees iPhones after the device gained IBM Lotus Notes support in February, and it already makes up 40% of the company's mobile devices.

"The percentage is shifting rapidly as more people are getting on the Apple bandwagon," said John Prusnick, Hyatt's director of IT.

Of course, it's not enough that employees want Apple products. IT departments have to factor in cost, security, and other concerns before making a switch.

For years, Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500) Windows and Research In Motion's (RIMM) BlackBerry were the go-to workplace devices because of their reputation for being more secure than competitors. Now, Apple is perceived to be less vulnerable to hacking, worms and other tech problems.

Many crucial business applications were also exclusive to PCs and BlackBerry phones. But with more business applications moving to the Web, that's less of an issue now.

Still, analysts say they don't expect Apple products to dominate the workspace anytime soon.

Apple doesn't provide product road maps, offers a very limited support and sales team for corporate customers, and lacks the third-party management tools that competitors who are far more entrenched in the corporate world have. Macs also generally cost more than PCs.

And it's worth noting that Apple has not really actively targeted tech departments of big businesses in its marketing or sales efforts. Many of the changes in the corporate world are being driven by Apple-loving employees.

"Apple is still fundamentally a consumer-focused company," said Charles Smulders, analyst at Gartner. "It's happy to take the low-hanging fruit from the enterprise business, but it's not a core focus." To top of page

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