IBM: Macintosh Cheaper, Easier than Windows for Corporate Use


Thirty years after Apple compared the IBM PC to Big Brother in Ridley Scott’s famous “1984” ad debuting the Mac, IBM announced it would make Macs and iOS devices available to its employees starting in June of this year. Quite a switch, since Steve Jobs used to consider IBM (and later Microsoft) as The Main Enemy, and most PC/Windows-based IT departments have always considered Macs to be overpriced toys.

So how are those overpriced toys working out for Big Blue?


Speaking before a enthusiastic crowd of more than 1,000 Apple-focused IT professionals at a JAMF Nation User Conference in Minneapolis Wednesday, [IBM Vice President Fletcher] Previn offered a four-month status report:

—IBM has already put 130,000 Macs and iOS devices in the hands of users as part of a partnership with Apple announced in 2014.

—New Macs are currently being deployed at IBM at the rate of 1,900 per week.

—The machines are supported by a total of 24 help desk staff members, which works out to one for every 5,375 employees. (Gartner recommends one support desk person for every 70 users.)

—Only 5% of Mac users at IBM require help desk support, compared with 40% of Windows PC users.

—98.7% of the Mac queries are resolved on the first call.

—PCs are cheaper, but Macs retain more value in the long run.

“Every Mac that we buy is making and saving IBM money,” Previn said.

The news was greeted by a chorus of “I told you so”s.

I won’t bother to join the I Told You So chorus, because I’d rather focus on the numbers.

The rundown from IBM: One in 20 Mac users requires held desk support, compared to eight times as many Windows users — and those few Mac users who do require help desk, virtually every problem was resolved on the first call.

On the flip side, it’s a near-certainty that Mac isn’t going anywhere near the IT backend. Apple doesn’t seem to have much interest in that market, having canceled the Xserve line in 2011 and then “helpfully” told IT departments to switch to racks full of Mac Minis — yeesh. That suggestion didn’t go over so well, and it’s a safe bet that Apple’s minimal backend presence hasn’t gotten much bigger since.

But for the computers used by people to get things done in the real world, without bucketsful of staffers supporting them, it’s really easier and in the long run far cheaper to buy Macintosh.

These other bits from the conference (courtesy of John Gruber) are telling:

Workstation cost per user: Upfront workstation investment is lower for PCs, however, Macs residual value is higher
IBM image not needed thanks to provisioning automation
Ratio of support staff to supported employees (Gartner says optimal is 1:70, average is 1:242, we are at 1:5400)
Impacts our ability to attract and retain top talent
Incremental purchase price of a Mac is paying for itself in reduced support burden

Q: You said you’re saving money by doing this. How are you doing this by supporting multiple platforms.
A: Modeling is based on 50% Mac adoption. (reduction in windows infrastructure and increase in Mac infrastructure) ex. 1400 windows support agents vs. 24 mac support agents

Q: How are you maintaining compatibility and managing upgrades?
A: Windows XP -> 7 required 1000 folks and took 18 months to figure out. Actually turned out that it would’ve been cheaper to give out new laptops. Folks upgraded themselves to [Mac OSX 10.11] El Cap with essentially zero cost.[Emphasis added]

Those support staff level requirement figures are shocking — to anyone unfamiliar with Mac’s ease-of-use. Elsewhere in the document, IBM admits that support-staff-to-user ratio of 1:5400 is “not enough.” But even if they have to double it, to 1:2700, then they could still reduce their support staff by 90% — Ninety Percent! — by switching completely from Windows to Mac.

That’ll pay for a lot of MacBooks.

IBM won’t realize that much savings, because they’re targeting only half of their employees switching to Mac. Some will stay with Windows because that’s what they prefer, others will stay because the software they use isn’t available for Mac. Software availability is likely to improve however, if IBM’s success with Mac is replicated by other large companies.

It’s difficult to argue with computers which require far less support staff, which allow for much higher satisfaction rates when Mac users actually do have to dial up help desk, and which employees can and do successfully upgrade themselves with zero supervision or cost.

Not that some Windows diehards won’t try to argue…

ANECDATA: My wife works for a large defense contractor. For her personal use she has a $1,200 MacBook (vanilla MacBook — not an Air or Pro) we bought way back in late 2008. She also has a work-issued HP Elitebook Windows laptop, a year old, and probably about $350 new. In seven years of heavy daily use, the MacBook has needed exactly one repair, when the old-fashioned hard drive finally died. Melissa cannot remember ever once having to call Apple for tech support. Not one time. That’s seven years of almost-annual OS upgrades, software installations, being knocked on the floor by children, etc — and not one tech call. She also works from home quite often, and most — most! — of those days include at least one call to corporate IT because of some damn fool thing wrong with Windows or the laptop. I should also mention that her company has had to replace the Elitebook twice.

The Elitebook has a speedy quad-core Intel i5, which seems to choke a lot running Windows 10. The MacBook’s aged Core 2 Duo zips through the latest version of OS X, installed last month without incident in about 30 minutes’ time.

And don’t even get me started on the build quality comparison. One is a large, heavy, flimsy, squeaky plastic box. The other is a Mac.

Melissa is about to upgrade to a new MacBook for the same price as the old one, but much faster, much smaller, much lighter, and with an all-day battery and a Retina display. She’s doing this after seven years because she wants to, not because she needs to. The vintage MacBook will go to our older son, and I expect he’ll get a few more years of maintenance-free use out of it. I’m no corporate IT department, but I feel pretty good spending $1,200 on a computer whose amortized cost (including repairs and support) will prove be about $160 a year. If we decided to sell it rather than give it to our son as a hand-me-down, we could get $300 or better for it on eBay — almost what the 2014 Elitebook was worth brand new.

My experience hasn’t been quite as trouble-free as Melissa’s. I did a lot of senseless poking around where I shouldn’t have with my first iMac (a new-to-me operating system — I couldn’t resist!), and I made a lot of Han Solo-type “special modifications myself” to my 2010-model Mac Pro. So, yeah I had to make some tech calls. But I’ve also owned two MacBooks in that time, and my experience with those two machines has been just as trouble-free as Melissa’s.

The upshot of all this is, had her employer bought a Mac in 2008, they’d have paid three times more money up front, but only had to buy one machine in all of that time, and have had to provide very little support for it or for her. That’s been the lesson of our practical experience, and now IBM has learned it, too.