Switch to Macs from PCs reportedly saves IBM $270 per user

Many workers have no choice when it comes to the technology they use at work, which means they are often systematically relegated to PCs instead of more expensive Macs. People who dare to as ask why they can't have Apple devices often hear a common refrain: Macs are more expensive; Macs are more difficult to support; and Macs are harder to manage and more challenging to control.

Until last spring, IBM, a company with roughly 400,000 employees and 130,000 external contractors, was a just-say-no-to-Apple shop. Now the company is eating crow like so many other organizations that once supported the status quo and avoided Macs. 

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IBM struck a wide-ranging enterprise mobility partnership with Apple in June 2014, but its IT organization didn't start officially supporting Macs until a year later. Since then, more than 30,000 Macs have been deployed at IBM in just five months, and the company says it is currently bringing 1,900 Macs to employees each week. 

Today, IBM employees can request Macs instead of PCs when they become eligible for new machines. "There had, I think, always been quite a lot of built-up demand for people that wanted to use Macs at IBM," said Fletcher Previn, vice president of workplace-as-a-service at IBM, who spoke about the Mac@IBM program at a recent JAMF Software user conference in Minneapolis. (JAMF makes mobile device management software for Apple products, and it also works with IBM.)  

JAMF Software is already benefiting from the change of heart and organizational process, according to Previn. The team of 24 IT staffers and specialists who support Macs at IBM is much smaller than what was required for PC support, and it spends less time fixing technical problems, Previn says. "You just have fewer problems coming in."

While 40 percent of IBM's PC users call the helpdesk for troubleshooting, on average only 5 percent of the company's Mac user do the same, according to Previn. "The longer this program runs, the more compelling the business case becomes," he says. "I can confidently say that every Mac that we buy is making and saving IBM money."

Just how much money "IBM tells us that each Mac is saving $270 compared to a traditional PC, thanks to much reduced support cost and better residual value," said Luca Maestri, Apple CFO and senior vice president, during the company's most recent earnings call.

Cost savings notwithstanding, employee desire to own and control their own technology is the biggest factor driving Mac adoption in the enterprise, according to David Johnson, principal analyst, Forrester Research. According to the firm's latest survey results, about 6 percent of global information workers (9 percent in the United States) say their primary work laptop is a Mac, and 13 percent (17 percent in the United States) say they want a Mac for their next work laptop. 

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"The reasons employees want more control are many, but our surveys show that the top reasons why they spend their own money on technology (which gives them control) is that it makes them personally more efficient and productive, it allows for a better work/life balance, and gives them higher job satisfaction," Johnson says.

"Twice as many employees want Macs than have them already," he says. "All of the research is there. So what IBM and Apple are doing is legitimizing what's already going on."

It's also worth noting that Apple's $25 billion enterprise business represents just one-eighth of its annual revenue. 

Tom Mainelli, vice president of devices and displays at IDC, says Apple isn't alone in this push for greater adoption among businesses. While Google's Chromebooks are primarily popular in the education market, an increasing number of companies look at the cloud-based devices as legitimate options as well, according to Mainelli. (IDC is a sister company of IDG, which owns CIO.com.) 

One of the biggest challenges for IT is coming up with "Apple-like" deployment methods for Macs, according to Dean Hager, CEO at JAMF Software. That quintessential Apple experience needs to begin at the point of purchase and continue earnestly through deployment and ongoing management, he says.

Apple devices should be deployed in a way that doesn't position IT as being restrictive, Hager says. "The users should not see that the management of the device is in some way preventing them from using the device to its full capacity," he says. "They should see the management of the device as something that's unleashing the power that they wouldn't otherwise have."

One of the first things CIOs notice when they roll out Macs is "zero-touch deployment," according to Hager. When Hager took the reigns at JAMF in June, he received a company-supplied MacBook and iPad with nothing but small Post-It notes affixed to the outside. "There wasn't a team of people loading up my machine, it was still shrink-wrapped on my first day of work," he says. "There is no need for IT to ever touch that system that goes to the user. Furthermore, the user doesn't even have to implement a command." 

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"I think only a fraction of businesses are aware this possible yet," says Hager. "If you're an IT shop and you slaved over imaging 10,000 Microsoft devices and you just deployed your first 1,000 MacBooks and you never touched them, what is the next thousand devices that you want to deploy"

Despite IBM's wholehearted embrace of Macs in the workforce, they can represent real challenges that CIOs and IT leaders must overcome, including higher up-front costs and compatibility issues with legacy infrastructure, applications, hardware and accessories.

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Switching from PCs to Macs can also take an emotional toll. "The biggest pain point is CIOs feeling like they're giving up control, which is understandably a hard pill to swallow," Johnson says.

Building a business case to change device management policies in the enterprise is just the start, according to Previn at IBM. The transition to Apple can ultimately change a company's culture. "We really view the Mac@IBM program as driving culture transformation as IBM pivots to a more agile enterprise," he says. "Increasingly we see it as a competitive disadvantage not to allow employees to have choice in this space."


Matt Kapko

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