Apple enjoys a prominent position in the smartphone and tablet markets, but larger enterprises who want to purchase those products often find the process both more difficult and more expensive than dealing with more traditional vendors. Here are some tactics to make the experience a little less painful.
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Successfully negotiating with Apple was the topic of a session at Gartner Symposium 2013 on the Gold Coast last week. The overriding lesson? Apple makes virtually no concessions to big business buyers.
In a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) environment that's not going to matter, but if you want to officially supply Apple gear to your staff, you'll need to become used to a different and generally less helpful way of working. Things you may have taken for granted — discounts for bulk purchases, access to an ongoing technology roadmap, and enterprise-level support — all go out the window in the Apple universe.
"Apple do not have a strong understanding of and alignment to your enterprise needs," Gartner analyst Gayla Sullivan said. "They are really coming from a consumer heritage background. They're not focused on your CIO."
"They're certainly disruptive. They're disruptive because you may not even be assigned a sales rep. What happens when you need to get something done?"
Another complication for multi-nationals is that deals need to be negotiated separately for every market you operate in. "They have no plans for global account management, and no consistently global approach," Sullivan said. "If you're signing contracts you are going to be signing in multiple geographies. Based on what we've seen that's not going to change. It's going to be country by country."
Another big issue is Apple's famous secrecy. "There's a big culture of secrecy and that creates other problems," Sullivan said. It doesn't have a long-term public roadmap for its devices or operating systems. If Apple decides that the next version of iOS won't work on an older iPad, the first you'll know of that is when it happens.
"They don't give you road maps, they don't really do briefings," Sullivan said. "So in addition to not negotiating contracts and prices, they're not going to tell you anything either, so it does make it hard to plan your infrastructure." While you can generally guess at an annual cycle for both OS X and iOS, this isn't always reliable or predictable, and hardware release patterns are becoming less consistent.
Support can also be tricky. "Apple kind of will take the calls and talk to you about your problems and do a root cause analysis. But they're not going to guarantee they're going to fix the problem." The usual outcome? It either gets fixed for everyone in a patch (which won't be pre-announced) or it gets ignored.
Nor will there be any channels for feedback. "You're in rarefied air if you're able to influence Apple's strategy whatsoever," Sullivan said. "Apple will not jeopardise anything to do with that end user experience to meet enterprise requirements.
Your best path for feedback to Apple may be signing up with a large reseller. "Apple's channel partners are very influential with Apple," Sullivan said. However, even then there's a catch." Apple are merciless when it comes to firing them — it's a 'one strike, you're out' deal."
While you might not be able to get advance insight or exert influence, there is some room in the system to score discounts. Signing up for an enterprise agreement can see you score discounts of between 2 and 4 per cent on your purchases. "We have seen eight per cent, but that's pretty rare and it starts with a commitment level of spending $250,000 annually," Sullivan said.
If your potential expenditure does fall into that category, Sullivan suggests you'll do better working through a reseller than trying to work with Apple directly. You may find that you can score better discounts on Macs (between 5 to 10 per cent) this way, though that largesse is unlikely to extend to iPads.
Similarly, if you want to purchase enterprise quantities of phones, you're likely to do better working directly with a carrier. That could score you discounts of between 2 per cent and 5 per cent, even if you don't have an enterprise agreement with Apple itself.
One last area to consider? Migration assistance. If you're looking to move a large workforce exclusively onto Apple gear, Apple may provide financial support for the transfer.