Macs–At Scale–In the Enterprise

October 19, 2022 / Ben Bajarin

You would be hard-pressed to find a large modern enterprise, in the US, that doesn’t have at least a few Macs running around its halls. As was with the early days of the iPhone, executives and board members, and specific employee levels/recruits, will get any technology they want. And, of course, Macs have long been staples in the creative departments of companies. The question is not whether Macs are in the enterprise, the question is whether Macs are being managed the same way their Windows PC counterparts are managed and deployed. Even more interesting, is to inquire if Macs are managed at scale. Outside of a few showcase organizations like IBM, Cisco, SalesForce, SAP, Google, Facebook, and a host of startups, the answer to both those questions is usually no.

Last month I attended a conference put on by Jamf, the largest software platform for managing Apple devices in the enterprise. Their user conference, JNUC (Jamf Nation User Conference) has the largest attendance of Mac admins in the country. While there, I had numerous conversations with Mac admins in large and small companies across all major industries like retail, technology, healthcare, government, and more. Thanks to an entirely new enterprise dynamic, in the cloud/digital-first world, I believe Apple is on the cusp of seeing the Mac finally cross the enterprise chasm and formally be embraced by every modern organization.

Macs on Parity with Windows in the Enterprise
Apple’s iOS devices are no stranger to the enterprise and are now fully embraced and supported by nearly all organizations. For a range of reasons, Apple’s Macs have not been widely embraced by large organizations, and when they are, they are often treated as a special class, separate from Windows PCs. Companies like Jamf, Kandji, JumpCloud, Moysle, etc., have grown and matured and provide organizations with the tools needed to support employees’ iOS devices and give them secure access to the company’s enterprise software and services. The key thing to note about iPhone’s success in the enterprise is these are employee-owned devices that are given the necessary enterprise keys and permissions. It is a much different scenario when it comes to PCs and Macs which are generally owned, managed, and provided to the employee. This is a key reason why in most large organizations employees simply don’t have the same choice of technology as they do with their smartphones which they own. While many organizations may evolve to support employees bringing their own Macs to work, the consensus from most IT decision-makers I talk to is employees prefer their notebook or desktop to be provided by their employer.

While not every employee can freely choose a Mac, many organizations have Macs running and deployed. They are just lightly to moderately managed whereas their Windows counterparts are fully managed. This is the most common scenario for most large organizations. In fact, while at JNUC, I attended a session from Cisco on their evolution from an immature employee Mac program to a fully mature employee Mac program which now manages more than 56,000 Macs internally. Cisco shared they had 15,000 Macs deployed internally before they embarked on the work to fully adopt Macs and macOS and give them full support parity with Windows. And now that Cisco has fully embraced the Mac when given a choice Macs are chosen at a 2:1 ratio.

What Cisco is finding internally, lines up with our research where we found that 60% of employed adults who took our survey said they wanted their organization to give them the choice of using a Mac. As the employee experience, and employee satisfaction with their workplace, become increasingly important to an enterprise’s success, it is inevitable Mac users be given parity to Windows PC users in the enterprise. To get there, a few things need to happen.

Macs Need a Spark
The point I’m about to make is relevant for large organizations that are largely Windows-based. From my discussions with Mac admins and Mac teams, the commonality I discovered that played a significant role in their company beginning their journey to fully support Macs began with a champion. Someone had the conviction that Macs needed to be fully embraced and supported and championed that effort. Interestingly, the more I heard people tell stories of the projects happening internally to bring Macs fully into the fold, the more I was reminded of when iPhones started to gain enterprise adoption and were up against the entrenched position of RIM/Blackberry. The iPhone’s journey to full corporate support began with champions (often C-level executives) who pushed their organization and helped work out the details, so iPhones could be fully embraced and allowed by IT. Those early days of iOS feel remarkably similar to what I’m hearing about Macs and macOS in large organizations today.

What is different today, than back in the early days of iOS, is we have companies like Jamf, Kandji, and JumpCloud that have emerged as viable third-party solutions that help organizations manage Apple devices, including Macs, at scale. These organizations fully support all the specific enterprise needs from enrollment, management, permissions/policies, security, and more and equip organizations with the tools to successfully deploy and manage Macs at scale.

Organizations, where Macs are not yet fully embraced, are more open to hearing the pitch of the Mac champion than at any point prior largely thanks to COVID. The COVID pandemic and its immediate impact on organizations that had to rely on their cloud infrastructure more than ever, made it glaringly clear, most–if not all–their apps and services work across computing platforms. COVID forcing 5+ years of digital transformation into 18 months did more for Apple’s opportunity with Macs in the enterprise than we could have known.

A Dedicated Team With Dedicated Tools
Another interesting learning for me was organizations that are starting to manage Macs at scale, or already manage Macs at scale, have a dedicated Mac admin team. The more I thought about this, the smarter I think this organization of IT is for the true success of both Apple devices and Windows devices in the enterprise. Having a team of experts on both platforms is the smartest way to ensure all the needs of the organization and the needs of the employee from a technical administrative level are being met. Recognizing each platform is different, and each employee who has chosen each platform has different needs will have a positive impact on employee experience. This might be a bit of a shift for many IT organizations, but it would be a shift for the better as enterprises move into the modern era.

I appreciated a principle shared with me by Jamf CEO Dean Hager during a conversation where he stated that Jamf’s mission is not to help their customers be successful with Jamf but to help their customers be successful with Apple. Similarly, CIOs and IT decision-makers need to embrace dedicated Mac/Apple admin teams and dedicated Apple/Mac management solutions so their employees can also be successful with Apple products if that is what they choose to use.

What was clear to me from my conversations with Mac admin teams, was the overwhelmingly positive impact on employee experience observed when organizations fully embrace the Mac, and its users. Commentaries from the likes of IBM and Cisco echoed the same and only gave me more confidence that for modern enterprises to compete both in their industry and for talent, they will have no choice but to embrace Macs the same way they embrace Windows PCs. This is a paradigm shift, no doubt, but one that will come with many rewards in employee experience and satisfaction.

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