Opinion - Caught in the Crossfire over Enterprise: Why AEC Suffers
The question is simple: does Apple need the enterprise market to survive and prosper? Apparently MacCentral and ZDNet writer Don Crabb seems to thinks so. However, as much as it pains me to say so, I believe Apple is better off focusing on the high-end graphics and publishing markets, the education markets, and the consumer and SOHO markets. These are Apple's traditional strongholds and they continue to fit well to Apple's current strategic strengths. But the enterprise market is something Apple simply can't risk addressing. Not now at least.
Don Crabb raises some good points, namely that corporate America continues to buy more machines more frequently than the education and the consumer markets. Not to mention that corporate America also buys more high-end workstations and high-end server computers -- the type of computers with high profit margins -- the type of computers Apple would love to sell more of. There are other good reasons why Apple should address the enterprise space. Parents buy personal computers for their kids because they use them at school. But they also tend to want to buy the same type of computers they use at work. If they use PC's, they buy PC's for home; if they use Macs (far less frequently), they buy Macs for home. This isn't just a trend; it's really just common sense. And it will continue to work that way for the unseen future. This compels Apple to get into the corporate/enterprise market when you consider that once parents buy PC's for their kids at home, they often want to campaign to get PC's in the schools. The argument is, if Apple doesn't exist in the enterprise market, it threatens the education market -- and it starts with K-12 and ripples on up to college, as more high school graduates show up on campus with PC's in-hand.
Crabb also argues that Apple already has many of the corporate/enterprise tools in-hand, such as FileMaker Pro, WebObjects and, now, Mac OS X Server. It could also be argued that critical enterprise software already exist for the Mac market with programs like MS Office and Oracle client software. Not only should Apple be there, the tools they need are already in place to address the enterprise market.
The Focus on Core Strengths Paradigm
On the other hand, addressing the enterprise market effectively puts Apple back into the "I'm everything to everyone" camp (which some feel they must now say anyway since they backed out of the clone business) and begins to "dilute their presence in the world" -- something Steve Jobs has worked hard to reverse. This is why they backed out of stores that weren't committed to them, cut their number of distributors down to three and developed their award-winning Think different ad campaign. Being focused goes hand-in-hand in making Apple's presence in the world clear and undiluted -- and it has worked! The world now knows what Apple stands for and its world-class brand is as strong as ever
There are other reasons against enterprise besides business focus. The most important being manufacturing capacity. To make a full frontal assault on the enterprise market would require a superior product and an even more superior marketing campaign. None of that is beyond the abilities of Apple (especially with Steve Jobs as its leader). But what happens if Apple succeeds? What happens when thousands of corporations decide to order hot new business class computers and servers? How could Apple possibly manufacture enough computers for enterprise when it occasionally struggles to meet the demand today, for products like the iMac or PowerBook G3's. Hundreds of large companies fulfill orders for the PC enterprise market, if Apple was to hope to serve this market as well, it could only hope to do so once it increased its manufacturing capacity and improved its poor record for timely delivery for products that are very popular.
If a poor manufacturing track record doesn't scare Apple when it considers reentering the enterprise market, then corporate IT should. Corporate IT are a risk adverse bunch and the concern they might have over Microsoft backing out of Macintosh is real. Only the DOJ can help that problem go away. Furthermore, IT has large investments in PC iron and Apple would need to go cross-platform in some manner to satisfy the need for flexibility that IT has been familiar with by being served by multiple PC vendors. Apple would also need to address enterprise software issues by focusing on Java solutions from companies like PeopleSoft, Oracle, SAP and so forth. And even if Apple could overcome all of these obstacles, the Holy War over the desktop is over. Apple lost and corporate America is -- for better or for worse -- contented with Microsoft, despite Redmond's horrific business practices, increased prices and lack of true software innovation.
In Conclusion: Does Enterprise Level Mac AEC Have a Chance?
And so while it may appear to Don that there is much to be gained by going after the enterprise market -- and in truth there is -- until Apple can truly address the issues above, Apple can't help but do harm to itself by trying. The difficulty with accepting this fact, unfortunately, concerns the Macintosh AEC market.
Nothing illustrates this concern better than Bentley's current hiatus from Macintosh development. As one very large Mac-based architecture firm recently told me, their unfortunate move (though slow) over to NT is necessitated because they need an enterprise-class CAD system and project management tools. Without Bentley's Microstation products moving forward on the Mac platform they simply can't stay loyal to Apple. And it's not just Bentley letting large AEC firms down. Without enterprise class software for project and financial management and enterprise class servers from Apple to run them on, large AEC firms are forced to look the other way -- the NT way.
While I may support Apple's new found focus and its desire to be the Sony of home computers, Apple's avoidance (and this is generally how Don puts it) of the enterprise market hits Mac AEC hard, precisely where it least can afford it: large firms with many seats and, thus, many influences. And for the time being some of those seats will continue to go NT.
Let's hope that in the year ahead Apple can address its manufacturing capacity, continue to deliver great server products like Mac OS X Server, deliver a stunning client OS with Mac OS X, and produce a "real" corporate server machine -- something in the tradition of the ANS 700, but with multiple G4 processors. And if they can do that -- and I believe they can -- they still need to work with enterprise software companies like Oracle and PeopleSoft to develop genuine Mac software products, even if they are not Carbon-based but instead are Java-based applications. With all of that in place getting enterprise-class CAD and AEC software tools back on the Mac could very well happen. Let's hope so.
Enterprise: Literally, a business organization. In the computer industry, the term is often used to describe any large organization that utilizes computers. An Intranet, for example, is a good example of an enterprise computing system. From PC Webopaedia