Apple gets back to its business roots

Apple gets back to its business roots

For some reason, Apple, which released its iPhone 7 yesterday, is thought of as a maker of consumer electronics hardware and software products, and is generally not thought to be an enterprise-oriented company. 

But this is not actually true, and never really was. It’s just that the industries in which Apple became strong — media, mainly — were not seen as industries as such, more as a fun way to pass the time.

The false perception could be the result of that crucial loss of the financial market to the old enemy IBM, resulting in the classic Big Bother ad in 1984, a decades-long strop on the part of the late Steve Jobs and a marketing war spanning two millennia during which Jobs and Apple would take on entire markets, not just single companies – with a little help from erstwhile enemies.

The image of Apple as a consumer electronics company is relatively new, and can probably be said to have started with the multicoloured iMac range the company launched in 1998, after Jobs returned to lead the company out of the slump it found itself in. It could even be argued that Apple made computers into household items.

At the time, people thought of the computer as a machine which lived in the office, on their work desk, not the multi-purpose home entertainment system the iMac became.

And through subsequent launches of devices such as the iPod, iPhone and iPad, Apple is known now as a maker of very desirable consumer electronics devices, and became the biggest company in the world along the way.

But there’s another strand in Apple’s history which links it to the world of business in a way which enabled the company to survive.

Permanent revolution 

Nowadays everything happens fast and changes fast. Startup companies nobody had ever heard of suddenly sell for billions, and the ones who have the billions to buy them didn’t event exist a couple of decades ago.

The media revolution of the 1990s, during which desktop publishing became a thing, would almost certainly not have happened had it not been for Apple Mac computers, used in combination with QuarkXpress and Adobe applications to design and produce magazines and newspapers.

Then, when the worldwide web started growing, the majority of the surfers may have been using Windows machines to get around cyberspace, but the vast majority of websites on the internet were being produced using Macs.

Apple computers were also popular in the music and film industry, which was, and still is, a massive money-maker.

But the notion remains that Apple is not a maker of business tools.

Given that it’s now the corporate phenomenon it is, it’s not of vital importance to Apple’s bottom line.

However, the demand has always been there for Apple to specifically turn its attention to enterprise users and tailor products especially for them.

Enterprise hailing frequencies open 

Apple has been heeding the calls of enterprise in recent years, improving its image among the corporatists by reaching deals with companies which are known for their corporate products: Cisco, IBM and even Microsoft, although the latter could be said to be a consumer electronics company as well, given that its operating system has 90-plus per cent of the global desktop market.

Apple was always the machine of choice in the publishing industry, with probably close to 90 per cent of magazine and newspaper publishers using the system.

Similarly, the music recording, film making, and web design industries — all seen as obscure, small-scale or even elite activities, are now mainstream, multi-billion-dollar markets in which many millions of enterprises are involved.

But having built its reputation on grass-roots small- and medium-sized businesses, Apple is now showing off its connections to the rich and powerful, such as German financial services giant Deutsche Vermögensberatung (let’s call them DV).

Let’s get down to business 

In one presentation video on Apple’s website, Dean Curtis, senior solutions architect at Apple, talks to DV executives about how they are “enabling their financial advisors with iPad and custom applications”.

Christian Glanz, CIO at DV, says he’s responsible for IT and operations, which consists of 400 employees in its internal IT department.

“We develop software, run the infrastructure, and we provide helpdesk services for our financial advisors,” says Glanz. “We were the first company in Germany to introduce iPads on a large scale to its advisors.”

Glanz says DV’s interest in iPads started right from the beginning, when Apple announced the iPad in 2010.

“Immediately in 2010 when Steve Jobs announced the iPad we were excited because we saw a new device being placed in between the existing laptops, on the one hand, and the iPhones on the other.”

Glanz adds that he thought the iPad would complete DV’s IT strategy.

Carola Völker, head of app development at DV, says: “We are quite proud that we were able to distribute 1,000 iPads to our top sales agents in summer 2010 and those iPads already had three of our own developed apps.”

She adds that she thinks the iOS operating system is secure and reliable environment in which to develop, distribute and manage apps.

A difficult operating environment  

One of the reasons in the past that people may have turned away from Apple is that its operating system was not compatible with the dominant Windows world.

But now, helped along by the standardised and open protocols of the new internetworked world of the web, that’s not so much of an issue.

Mac OS X may still have a measly 4.38 per cent of the market compared with Windows, which more or less owns the rest of the market, but as the old saying goes, “On the internet, no one knows you’re a dog”.

Even in the mobile devices market, the Apple iOS is in second place, with less than half the market share of Android. Netmarketshare.com estimates it at 27.2 per cent for iOS and 66.87 per cent for Android.

Let’s get back to business 

Returning to Glanz, CIO of DV: he says it would be difficult to credit one device or an IT strategy with the achievements of an entire company.

“But clearly we have achieved much since 2010 and the introduction of the iPad,” he says. “We have significantly increased our revenues, we’ve increased our market share, and we’ve significantly improved our image as the leading provider of IT solutions within the financial community.

“That is due to the fact that we introduced a device that clearly helped our financial advisors reach their goals and perform better and at higher quality than before.

“Our customers are really happy as well. You can see that from customer surveys and awards we have received.”

The killer app 

The reason why computers became so widespread in the business community in the first place was because finance professionals found that the accounting software enabled them to do their jobs much more efficiently and to a higher standard.

Most people might think that the “killer app” in question was the forerunner of Excel, the spreadsheet application, and was used IBM machines and then later Microsoft DOS systems.

But they weren’t the only companies offering such applications.

VisiCalc running on Apple II circa late-20th century.
VisiCalc running on Apple II circa late-20th century.

VisiCalc, short for “visible calculator”, which is said to be the first spreadsheet computer program for personal computers, was released by Apple in 1979, and was only followed by IBM a couple of years later.

It was weight of numbers that eclipsed Apple as an enterprise machine and system. IBM machines, followed by machines made by different manufacturers running DOS, was what did for Apple.

But now that Apple is so big in the consumer market, is it really a good thing for it to be a leading player in the enterprise space as well?

That’s not a question a CIO needs to be too concerned with. What matters is whether the technology is appropriate for the company and its employees, and whether it will lead to better services and products for customers.