Apple Makes B2B Inroads Mostly Without PartnersBy Charlene O'Hanlon | Posted 2008-12-23 Email Print
Microsoft Windows' market share slips at the expense of Apple's Mac OS X operating system's gains. More corporations are experimenting with Macs as clients. And yet Apple is doing most of it with direct and retail channels, say its solution providers.
When it comes to cache in the consumer space, no company has more than Apple. But in the channel space? Not so much.
But it’s not as though Apple’s products are inferior or not robust enough to handle the demands of the corporate environment. And the Macbook is user-friendly and easy enough to fix that most users can easily figure out things on their own without professional IT help.
So why aren’t more Apple products being sold into the enterprise?
Some solution providers believe it’s simply a matter of metrics; the company is the darling of the consumer space, which requires little backend support or the personal relationships that must be forged with channel partners.
"Everybody loves Apple and Apple is on top. To me it doesn’t seem like they have to push as much. We’re a partner of theirs and we sell Apple products, but for us it’s more of a request base [of customers]," said Marcial Velez, CEO of Xpertek, an equal-opportunity Mac and Windows solution provider in New York. "There is no drive from the top down to [engage with the channel]."
Indeed, Apple resellers are a thinning bunch, culled by Apple itself with the opening of its retail stores. The company has at least one location in 48 states, and in 2009 plans to open 20 to 30 more stores, according to Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster.
And while it has a section on its Web site describing its channel programs for consultants, resellers, value-added resellers and service providers, Channel Insider received no response from an inquiry to discuss Apple’s channel programs.
Could it be that Apple is just not that into the channel space?
"It doesn’t seem like they’re that interested in the channel, not like other vendors that are really continuing to work with the channel," Velez said. "The XServe RAID technology hasn’t been updated in quite some time, and Apple has done some improvements to the XServe software OS, but it doesn’t seem like it’s a priority for Apple."
It’s ironic that Apple’s channel remains largely self-service and opportunistic considering the inroads the company’s products are making in the enterprise. Channel-friendly vendors such as Juniper Networks and Intel now have programs where employees can choose either a Mac or PC for their work machine. And the iPhone is being supported by an increasing number of corporate IT departments despite its late integration with Microsoft’s Exchange e-mail server.
Additionally, Apple's desktop share continues to climb. According to a report by Net Applications, Apple's Mac OS X operating system now enjoys nearly 9 percent market share. Conversely, Microsoft Windows' market share slipped below 90 percent for the first time in 15 years. Windows now holds 89.6 percent desktop market share, according to the report released earlier this month.
Traditional resellers may not be feeling the love, but for companies such as SAN Solutions, a Reno, Nev.-based solution provider that focuses on the entertainment space, Apple is a valuable—if not quiet—vendor partner, said Harry Aine.
"We get the support we are looking for, but we run pretty independent," said Aine, SAN Solutions’ president. "They do occasionally engage with us, but they’re definitely not completely engaged. And that’s a good thing; when you have a vendor who has a sales staff that is larger than your company and they’re calling you daily to see if you’re closing any deals, it can be overwhelming. We don’t get that treatment from Apple -- it’s kind of nice not to be bothered all the time."
Because SAN Solutions works in the entertainment space, traditionally a Mac-intensive environment, the company enjoys a higher profile with Apple than general resellers, Aine said.
However, SAN Solutions occasionally has issues with Apple’s direct play for large accounts – and the occasional toe-stepping that accompanies such moves.
"The problem is we deal with large accounts and most are also direct with Apple," he said. "We (Apple and SAN Solutions) divvy out what is ours and what makes sense to go through Apple Direct. Sometimes we have some issues, but generally we cooperate. It’s really about what’s best to support the customer.
"If we were to see more opportunities passed on to us from Apple, that would be great, but at this point I don’t expect it," he added. "As long as you don’t depend on it, it’s not a big problem."
Aine noted that there may be more problems on the horizon, however, as Apple has consolidated the number of people supporting his company in its server and storage groups, which also have moved into other groups as Apple works to reduce its overhead.
"If they reorganized, cut back on their Apple direct staff and have [that staff] launch or run 85 percent of their business through the channel, and drove the customer class we deal with to us, they could offload a lot of infrastructure for the direct channel," Aine said. "It would help us and probably help them, because they’re going to save money either way."
And it might put a little more life back into Apple’s channel program, to boot.