For Apple, 2018 meant a new enterprise tack

Though it's often seen as a consumer-centric company, Apple now touches a wide variety of enterprise IT operations. That growing corporate influence is likely to continue, and may even accelerate, in 2019.

If I had to sum up Apple's relationship with the enterprise (and education) in one sentence, it would be: 2018 was the year things changed - and changed in a big way.

Apple has made shifts in its server and Mac/iOS/Apple TV management focus that are dramatic and some of them weren't really weren't anticipated. I didn't see what many of this year's adjustments meant until after Apple's iPad Pro announcement in Brooklyn in October. That event, which followed JAMF's user conference, prompted me to reevaluate the market Apple is pursuing in business and the moves it's been making. What might look like tactical decisions along the way, when viewed as a whole, show Apple has embarked on a new enterprise approach from the top down.

It's as though Apple finally realized the major impact it's had on large business and enterprise customers. Although it rolled out a string of partnerships with enterprise vendors in recent years - its partnerships with IBM and SAP come to mind - the size and scope of these deployments across industries have only taken shape in just the past year or two.

Through its relationship with IBM - both as a strategic partner and as one of its largest (if not the largest) customers - Apple has transitioned from an underdog in the enterprise to one of the companies leading the IT pack in the 21st century. Its user/employee-centric model and flexible management capabilities combine to deliver an incredible user experience and ease of setup that few companies are capable of achieving, and those advantages persist, even at scale. It's a powerful formula that sets a model competitors and even IT departments should aspire to copy q.

What Apple did in 2018

Let's recap some of the major changes involving Apple this year:

  • Major changes to macOS Server that remove the vast majority of its feature set and point users to the open source solutions on which they are based.
  • The rollout of Apple Business Manager, a feature that links into the company's Device Enrollment Program (DEP), Volume Purchase Program (VPP) for apps and ebooks, and its device management (MDM) protocol. The result is an simpler no-touch deployment and lifecycle management process for Apple devices (everything from Macs, iPhones and iPads to Apple TVs).
  • A forceful stance that several management controls will be available only to Supervised (generally company-owned) devices in 2019, creating a more significant difference between corporate hardware and BYOD devices.
  • New Macs (beginning with the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar) that feature the company's T2 security chip. The new chip enables enhanced security for everything from signing to cryptography to integrity checks (as well as TouchID on laptops). Although this ensures high security and privacy that matches the needs of users and businesses for security and regulatory compliance, it does limit some repairs and storage recovery on damaged Macs to authorized service providers. It also signals the end of Mac hard drive/SSD imaging as a deployment option in favor of Apple's MDM protocol - a clear sign that MDM has grown up in the eight years since it was introduced.
  • JAMF's acquisition of NoMAD, a tool for Active Directory authentication, and the resulting offering based on it: JAMF Connect, which provides a smoother Active Directory integration.
  • Apple's decision to highlight the new Mac mini as an answer for high-end tasks, largely related to video production, augmented reality creation and app development; the company moved away from touting the mini as a server running the now-deprecated macOS Server platform.
  • The new iPad Pro, which Apple portrayed as a standalone computing device powerful enough to replace a traditional notebook or workstation. (At the unveiling, the company showcased a full version of Photoshop running on the new hardware.)
  • A continued push for strategic partnerships with large enterprise vendors. Some of those vendors highlight their own large-scale Mac deployments and IBM decided to open source its internal Mac@IBM platform for use as a template and app for other large-scale Apple deployments.

A sea change at last?

Although Apple has produced enterprise-grade solutions at least since the release of Mac OS X Server 1.0 in 2000 - and certainly since the release of Intel-based Macs, the iPhone, iPad, and its MDM management architecture - the prevailing view has been that Microsoft was the enterprise-focused company, a perspective Apple tried to counter. This year saw a subtle, but noteworthy shift: Apple isn't stressing its enterprise credibility like it has in the past because it doesn't need to now. Apple is accepted as a major enterprise player, partner and powerhouse.

With that position, it (and its partners) are moving to reduce or eliminate the tools needed as a bridge to the "Apple way" of doing things. By doing that, the company is better able to meet enterprises where they are, easing barriers to entry and helping them take steps toward digital transformation.

To borrow the theme of this year's JAMF Nation User Conference, Apple is fulfilling its old tag line that there's no "step three." Its products just work in enterprise environments and can be delivered to employees still shrink-wrapped and outfitted for corporate needs - requiring workers to do little more than power on their device and enter their enterprise credentials to get setup and running.

At the same time, the identity of a typical Apple enterprise customer is changing as massive scale deployments at big organizations crowd out some of the small and mid-size firms and schools that have been at the core of Apple's enterprise business for years. Even Apple has had to come to terms with the scale of its deployments at large firms; in a recent MacAdmins podcast, Apple execs used the phrase "six-digit" device deployments more than once. In some ways, Apple has learned as much from its enterprise customers and partners as it has taught them.

One result of these large deployments is that Apple can now easily point to these companies whenever outdated stereotypes about it are raised. It's hard to say Apple products aren't for business when IBM has deployed and manages a fleet that numbers in the hundreds of thousands.

This isn't just useful marketing. The lessons learned and best practices developed by these companies provide a rich knowledge base that other organizations of various sizes and structures can look to and build on.

In short, this was the first year where it could credibly said that Apple seized the enterprise market with both large and small changes, some of them obvious, others extremely subtle. In 2019, Apple will need to build on these changes and continue to adapt its enterprise strategy in a way that can meet the needs of the largest companies while ensuring that its longtime base of smaller businesses remain supported.

With that in mind, I expect to see Apple tweaking its concepts of identity and ownership in the coming year. Stay tuned.

Copyright © 2018 IDG Communications, Inc.

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