Apple's budding partnership with IBM culminated in the release of AppleCare for Enterprise, the company's business-specific support service, but for the vast majority of organizations that use Apple products the initiative is nothing more than a glorified Genius Bar. CIOs and IT professionals welcome Apple's recent interest in the enterprise, but many are still unclear on the levels of support and services the consumer giant offers -- and few are satisfied with Apple's commitment.
AppleCare for Enterprise, which is roughly 8-months-old, includes 24/7 phone and email support for all Apple hardware and software, on-site service from IBM, next-day device replacement, a designated account manager and one-hour response times for urgent issues. These services are virtually unattainable for most business customers because many don't have relationships with both Apple and IBM, a requirement for the support services.
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Apple CFO Luca Maestri spoke this week during a company earnings call and said Apple is pleased with its progress in the partnership with IBM and that more than 500 companies participate in the joint enterprise support program.
However, outside of those large companies that have agreements with Apple and IBM, the iPhone maker's communication with CIOs is almost nonexistent, according to Stuart Appley, CIO of real estate firm Shorenstein. "They're immature in their process and evolution of working with a business ... They've never reached out. It's not an easy thing to reach out to Apple at that level." Apple won't become a genuine enterprise partner in most CIOs' minds until it engages with more of the IT community, Appley says.
Apple listens to CIO community but doesn't act
Aaron Gette, CIO of Bay Club, a lifestyle and fitness company, says he spoke with Apple's enterprise sales team in the past, but the level of support he received was superficial at best. "The company line that they've towed is, 'We're always looking to improve, we appreciate your feedback,' but you never see [Apple] taking that advice and running with it," he says. "It's more of a lip service than anything else."
Apple should engage the CIO community to help solve significant IT challenges that impact all businesses, according to Gette, who says he's frustrated that Apple is so behind the curve on enterprise support. Unfortunately, that's always been the status quo for Apple. "We've been telling Apple directly forever, the way that they support the enterprise is terrible."
Even though Apple has a formal enterprise support group anchored to its partnership with IBM, most CIOs can't, or don't know how, to take advantage of it, because they work for businesses that can't afford or don't otherwise need the massive Apple and IBM contracts that are required. All they know is that it's an exclusive program limited to large enterprises that have deals with both companies. "At some point maybe they'll be clearer about what they're offering, but until then you've got to get stuff done, and you can't wait around for Apple," Gette says.
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CIOs are glad to see Apple partner with companies such as IBM but they'd also like to reap some of benefits of the new programs. Small-to-midsize businesses apparently don't apply to Apple's model for enterprise-level support, according to both Appley and Gette.
"There's no reason why they shouldn't be able to offer that to anybody that has a large user base, whether you call it enterprise or not," says Gette. "You shouldn't also have to be in a situation where you have to have a partnership with IBM."
Apple's programs for SMBs come up short
Some of the services CIOs want from AppleCare for Enterprise, such as setup, training and technical support, are available as part of Apple's Joint Venture program, but it's managed by Apple retail stores and all eligible products must be purchased through Apple directly. Appley says Shorenstein pays $500 per year for this service and it covers up to five individuals, each of whom can receive support for multiple Apple devices.
"It helps us get to the front of the line at the Genius Bar," he says. Businesses that pay for membership in the Joint Venture program also get up to 6 hours of in-store training each year and receive in-store assistance with device setup, including supervised data transfer from other devices.
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That's a step in the right direction, but it barely scratches the surface of what most CIOs want from Apple. They'd prefer the preferential, hands-on treatment given to companies including Air Canada, National Grid in the United Kingdom, and Banorte in Mexico, three new AppleCare for Enterprise customers Maestri mentioned on the recent earnings call.
The lesser support offering for SMBs is inefficient, inconvenient and difficult to manage, according to Gette. "You have to make an appointment just like anybody else," he says. "I'm certainly not going to have my guys waiting in the Genius line to get it done."
Lots of room for improvement for Apple in enterprise
To its credit, Apple is expanding its network of consultants, managed service providers and MDM vendors to help fill the gaps in its support for iOS devices in the enterprise. The company is also working with more than 40 mobility partners that sell business software and solutions "to help businesses of all sizes transform work with iPad and iPhone," Maestri said.
Apple has always farmed out the bulk of enterprise support this way, according to Gette. "They don't actually do the work, whether it's implementation or support."
Apple's foray into the enterprise market still leaves much to be desired among the ranks of IT. Appley says the company is taking steps in the right direction, but it's too confusing to work with Apple as an enterprise vendor and it often doesn't cater to IT's most basic needs. CIOs want the consumer-minded company to deliver a more mature and unified approach to enterprise support. However, Apple hasn't demonstrated genuine concern for what CIOs want or need, at least not until CIOs show them the money.
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