Mac Enters Enterprise by Back Door


Business Mac deployments hit a 5 percent adoption ceiling last year, but they’re bouncing down, according to a new report by Forrester Research. Earlier Forrester research put business Mac adoption as high as 5 percent, in May 2008, up from 3.6 percent in October 2007. A recent survey of 962 IT decision-makers from businesses in Europe and North America notches adoption down to 3 percent.

Mac OS X maintains its niche business status, but Tech Populism is driving more interest. Apple continues to maintain its niche status within enterprises,” wrote Forrester analyst Benjamin Gray in a report published today.

“But interest in Macs is increasing within both IT organisations and end users,” Benjamin continued. “Progressive organisations are flirting with desktop and application virtualization to meet this demand, and some are even experimenting with ‘bring your own PC to work’ programs that will be based on this platform.”

Benjamin didn’t discuss Macs adoption regression, but in an April 2008 report he warned that businesses resisted increasing Mac deployments. So what’s different now? The front door is still locked, but some IT organisations are open to Macs coming in the back. From the newer report:

While certainly not widespread yet, over the past three months, Forrester has fielded an increased number of client inquiries on Tech Populism’s impact on the client and the consumerisation of IT’s effect on client management and client security processes and technologies. These inquiries are largely being driven by organisations that are seeing increased interest in Apple products, including Macs and the iPhone, and Forrester anticipates that this thought exercise/exploratory interest in 2008 will increasingly evolve to actual pilots later this year and beyond.

In July, I predicted that iPhone would lead to an enterprise halo effect, whereby resulting in Mac computer deployments. The effect on businesses would be similar to iPod, which generated halo sales among consumers.

Forrester conducted its research in August and September, which was before major economic decline sapped global IT spending. Many businesses almost certainly have changed their PC buying plans in response to economic uncertainty, reduced budgets and corporate layoffs. I don’t mean to criticise Forrester. It’s simply bad luck that the survey was conducted right before a major economic cataclysm.

More importantly, consumers have cut back spending. If Tech Populism is the main means by which Macs come into enterprises, what happens when popularity decreases? It’s the question to ask with the economy in such bad shape. A £915 MacBook will increasingly be tough selling, I predict. Fortunately for Apple, at £140, iPhone 3G remains attractively priced—perhaps more so. Two hundred bucks is easier to spend than £915, and iPhone is as much hip-hugging computer as cell phone. The Tech Populism doesn’t have to go away, although I expect it to diminish.

How does that translate into more Mac sales to businesses? The question was easier answered in August, before global economies went to hell, than today. Macs cost more upfront. Die-hard Mac fans will dispute the statement, but without credibility. Sure, on a hardware feature-for-feature basis, most Macs cost about the same, or even less, than some comparable PC desktop, laptops or servers. But the Windows computer has a lower-entry cost, and that will matter most to many budget-constrained IT organisations.

What could make the difference long term—and this is where all those iPhone Tech Populists matter—is total cost of ownership. Businesses running these Tech Populism pilots will be more likely to do thorough TCO studies. I expect a surprising number of businesses will find huge TCO benefits to Macs over time, because:

* Apple laptops and desktops tend to hold their value and be serviceable for longer time than many comparable or low-cost Windows PCs. How many of you reading this post are still running Power Mac G3s or G4s?

* Mac OS X Server licensing is more attractive than Windows Server, mainly because of CALs (client-access licenses), which are unlimited for £704.

* Right now, Macs are less susceptible to viruses and other malware, which reduces long-term maintenance and support costs.

That said, short-term economic crisis may outweigh long-term benefits. For now, Mac business adoption has fallen back, even as IT organisational interest increases. Two categories of businesses have highest Mac adoption (4 percent)—North American establishments and those businesses with 1,000 or more employees but fewer than 20,000, according to Forrester.

Yesterday, I blogged about questionable marketshare data from Net Applications. I said that the only really credible share data comes from business or consumer surveys—and here it is, unexpectedly, from Forrester.