Though they haven't produced the kind of hype and media attention its consumer-focused product launch events do, the steady stream of partnerships Apple (AAPL) has been announcing with major enterprise tech players is worthy of investor attention. Particularly given how technology trends and demographics strengthen the potential impact of many of these alliances.
Apple's latest enterprise deal features consulting and IT services firm Deloitte, which plans to offer a service (called Enterprise Next) through which more than 5,000 Deloitte consultants will help companies deploy Apple products and services.
That follows a May deal with German enterprise software giant SAP (SAP) , through which SAP will build iOS apps for "critical business operations" and both companies will help businesses and third-party developers build iOS apps that leverage cloud-based versions of SAP's Hana in-memory database. There was also a 2015 deal with Cisco Systems (CSCO) to create a "fast lane" for iOS devices communicating on networks relying on Cisco hardware, and to integrate the iPhone with Cisco's collaboration and conferencing hardware.
In 2014 Apple formed what's arguably its biggest enterprise alliance: a deal with IBM (IBM) under which Big Blue agreed to resell and help deploy Apple hardware, as well as develop "more than 100 industry-specific enterprise [iOS] solutions" for clients. Since then, IBM has launched dozens of iOS apps targeting verticals such as retail, banking, travel and energy.
Apple has also made efforts to woo independent enterprise app developers, create volume-purchase programs and (with IBM's help) provide AppleCare service plans tailored for businesses. A year ago, Tim Cook disclosed Apple obtained $25 billion in revenue from enterprises in the 12 months ending June 2015. For reference, Apple's consensus analyst sales estimate for fiscal 2016, which just ended, is at $215.6 billion.
The fact corporate hardware buyers are often less cost-sensitive than consumers has helped Apple grow its enterprise presence. So has the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend, through which employees use their own hardware on enterprise networks, and the adoption of enterprise mobility management (EMM) software that can manage company-bought and BYOD hardware running on multiple operating systems.
Demographics have also helped with BYOD purchases: Corporate workers skew wealthier, and iPhones, iPads and Macs all claim an outsized share of higher-income consumers. Meanwhile, lingering worries about Android fragmentation and security have boosted Apple's share of corporate purchases, and so has the rapid demise of BlackBerry's smartphone business.
During Apple's July earnings call, the company mentioned a survey from 451 Research found 75% of U.S. corporate buyers looking to buy a smartphone during the September quarter planned to buy an iPhone. And before it was bought by BlackBerry, EMM software firm Good Technology frequently released reports showing iPhones and iPads accounted for a solid majority of the mobile device activations it tracked.In certain ways, Apple's enterprise efforts still need improvement. Some CIOs complain Apple's hardware support services remain inadequate, and that the company hasn't done enough to cater to small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs). But with the help of strategic alliances, outreaches to Global 2000-type companies and a large base of office workers who double as loyal iOS and MacOS users, the enterprise is well-positioned to be an Apple growth market for some time.