Apple has moved to boost its small business and enterprise operations with the launch of an Australian version of the Apple Consultants Network.
The network, already operating in North and South America, is made up of certified Apple resellers that aim to offer advice and implementation services across the consumer, SMB and enterprise markets.
While service providers have offered Apple-based offerings for many years, this is the first time the vendor has formalised the relationship and publicly promoted it in Australia.
Apple reseller, Digistor group marketing manager, Mark Richards, told Computerworld the move gave network members access to Apple branding and recognition as service providers, while also offering structure to the implementation and consulting work already being done by many companies.
"We've been working with Apple for a long, long time; Digistor has been an Apple reseller for 15 years or more," he said. "In that time the relationship has changed – Apple changes its approach to the channel with the support it gives, and things like the Apple store also changes things."
However, Richards argued the new approach would help Digistor, which works typically with broadcast organisations, increase its revenue and likewise Apple's enterprise play.
In the past, Apple has used its own representatives to approach potential enterprise clients and then passed on work to sub-contractors as it saw fit. Enterprise IT departments usually had to go direct to Apple and rarely had the chance to utilise the services of external partners, leading some observers to argue this approach has limited Apple's success in the enterprise space.
Notably, Apple also excluded its reseller network (not including telco partners) from access to lucrative iPhone sales, adding tension to a frequently up and down channel relationship.
"If you have any manufacturer and they have their own product then it is very hard for them to be across all products and platforms," Richards said. "Whether you are talking enterprise or broadcast or education, I think that is pretty true. So, yes, this will help them in enterprise and other environments as well."
Apple's enterprise push has experienced mixed fortunes in recent times with the iPhone, for example, initially shunned by IT departments (partly out of lack of security) and then gradually accepted to be one of the more popular mobile choices.
But the question of whether the vendor can successfully branch out from its strength in creative industries, education and government to win over enterprise CIOs has split observers.
Last year at the Gartner Symposium in Sydney, for instance, two leading industry analysts went head to head in an often fiery discussion on this question. The debate was indicative of the polarized enterprise views of Apple's technology and enterprise play.
Another Apple reseller that has joined the consultant network, Key Options Technology technical director David Colville said the move would assist what he argued is the vendor's increasing openness.
"Apple's traditional structure was that they were rather closed off; for ten years or so they were rather an insular solution," he said. "But a lot the integration we are doing these days is putting Macs into Active Directory environments, putting Macs into Novell environments. Vendors like Novell are also coming to the party… and there are a bunch of standards that traditional enterprise customers are familiar with. The other place we have being doing a lot of stuff with enterprise is in with multimedia and digital education content delivery. It is a vehicle we are talking more and more with customers at the moment."
The Apple Consultant Network website lists only three enterprise-focussed partners in total - Key Options Technology, Digistor and Computers Now. At least one of these providers has offices in Victoria, NSW, the ACT and Queensland respectively.
However, there are no enterprise-focussed partners in Tasmania, South Australia, the Northern Territory and Western Australia.