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Mac switch revisited: An enterprise PC shop's move to Apple isn't as easy as expected

Auto Warehousing Co.'s switch from PCs to Macs is proving more painful than expected.

March 3, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - This is the second in a series of articles as Computerworld follows AWC's transition to Apple over the course of a year. The first article is "Mac Attack! An enterprise PC shop switches to Apple."

Hindsight, as they say, is always 20/20.

Less than five months after going public with plans to immediately start replacing its Windows-based PCs with Macs, Auto Warehousing Co. was forced to push back the project by more than a month. That was last December. The reason was not a lack of money, manpower or executive support. Rather, what stymied the project were protests from workers and objections from customers who perceived the technology switch as unnecessarily costly.

"I didn't see this coming at all," says Dale Frantz, CIO of the Tacoma, Wash.-based company. "We never before had any of the workforce question our technological initiatives." But with the Mac project, "there was a perception that the equipment was much more expensive than traditional Windows PCs and that we were purchasing Lamborghini-level equipment with the company's profits," he says.

AWC's customers had similar concerns, raising questions about whether the technology migration might trigger increases in service rates.

In fact, Frantz says, within hours after a July 16, 2007, Computerworld story about AWC's technology migration plans was published, both he and CEO Stephen Seher received a flood of phone calls and e-mails with questions, positive and negative comments, and even an anonymous death threat.

"Because of the breadth and scope of the project, our customers, workforce and financial institutions had a lot of questions," Frantz says.

Employees wanted to know whether money that could go toward salary increases or other benefits was being diverted to what they perceived as a pricey high-tech project. Customers worried that the cost of the project would be passed on to them. AWC's bankers wanted more details to determine whether switching to a new technology made sound business sense.

Customers' and suppliers' reactions didn't really surprise AWC Chief Financial Officer Dennis Matteo. His biggest surprise had come earlier, when Frantz first expressed a serious interest in switching to Apple technology.

"Dale is a very savvy CIO [and] was a committed Microsoft advocate. So when [he] started to look at Apple in a very serious way, it implied he had seen some fundamental changes in the business services direction of Microsoft and Apple," Matteo says. "Obviously, he likes the direction Apple is moving."

On all fronts, the concern was widespread enough that AWC executives decided to push back the rollout of the client computers and instead build support for the project.

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