On Monday, nearly 2,000 professional IT people swarmed to Minneapolis to attend the largest event of the year for people who support Apple devices for a living.
Apple makes billions of dollars each year selling its technology to businesses, but it doesn’t throw a customer conference. The closest is its Worldwide Developers Conference for people who build apps. That’s not exactly the same crowd as the IT pros responsible for fleets of Apple products at their companies.
So the conference held by Jamf, a company founded by two former IT people that makes software to manage fleets of Apple products, has become the de facto gathering for enterprise Apple IT people.
On stage this year, for instance, SAP described how it manages 17,000 Macs, 83,000 iOS devices, and 170 Apple TVs for its employees. IBM said it would open-source (give away) its tools for managing Apple devices. Microsoft announced a partnership.
This is the kind of news that Apple might announce if it held its own conference.
As Apple gets ready to launch new iPads and Macs next week to entice consumers and business users, Jamf’s conference highlights an interesting anomaly: Apple has an enormous enterprise business that it doesn’t talk much about.
The lack of detail about the enterprise business is not entirely out of character for the secretive Apple. But according to one analyst’s estimates — and a little back-of-the-envelope math by Business Insider — Apple’s enterprise business could be a roughly $37 billion business today.
$25 billion back in 2015
In 2015, Tim Cook opened the brown wrapper on this business a bit when during an onstage interview with Box CEO Aaron Levie, one of Apple’s enterprise partners, he said Apple’s enterprise sales had hit $25 billion over the previous 12 months, representing about 14% of the company’s revenue in that period.
“This is not a hobby — this is a real business,” Cook told Levie.
The implication is that Apple didn’t fall happenstance into its enterprise popularity because employees started bringing their own iPhones and Macs to work. Apple has been courting businesses, building out the sales and support infrastructure that large companies need.
Since that 2015 interview, Apple has often repeated that $25 billion number but has not publicly updated it. And Apple declined to comment when we asked, though Susan Prescott, Apple’s vice president of product marketing, who heads its enterprise business, doubled down on telling us that this business has been a deliberate focus for Apple for many years.
“Our commitment and attention to enterprise is something we’ve been focused on since the early days, because we know the best devices enable you to do your best work,” she said.
“With iPhone, we set out to completely rethink mobile, to enable the things we knew people wanted to do, including at work,” she added. “In the first versions of iPhone, we added enterprise features like Exchange email support and VPN, and we engaged with businesses and IT to understand their needs. Since then, we have added enterprise features with every major software release.”
Growth all around
Often, such radio silence about the actual numbers suggests that a once thriving business is no longer that healthy. But in Apple’s case, all indications are that Apple is selling more to businesses than ever and that this isn’t by accident.
Since that 2015 interview with Cook, Apple has signed up several big enterprise partners. Its first, with IBM, was announced in 2014, and it has since added SAP to help companies build custom iOS apps and use them internally.
Apple also signed on the giant consulting firms Accenture and Deloitte as partners that help enterprises build IT projects based on Apple tech. Apple says it sends its experts to work at Accenture’s digital studios, while Deloitte, whose own employees use 75 custom iOS apps and 100,000 Apple devices internally, has trained more than 5,000 consultants.
Maribel Lopez, a principal of Lopez Research and esteemed market researcher, estimated that since revealing the $25 billion figure in 2015, Apple has “added at least three more partners, which would give you at least 50% more growth.”
With 50% growth, Apple’s enterprise business would have hit $37 billion, maintaining its contribution of about 14% of Apple’s annual revenue.
More to come
Last month, Apple announced a new partnership with Salesforce to bring Salesforce’s customers onto Apple devices using custom apps.
Apple has its own design studio where it consults with businesses on their app-design needs.
And while Apple has for years had an enterprise sales force, it appears to be staffing that up too.
A quick search on Apple’s job site found 160 jobs that reference “enterprise,” including everything from sales account executives to sales engineers (who help companies map out their technical needs) to managers for a mysterious enterprise voice and video project.
And a search on LinkedIn shows thousands of people who list their work at Apple as either in enterprise sales or in a technical role supporting projects for enterprise customers.
“Apple spends more time working with IT leaders than we give them credit for,” Lopez said.