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Is IT the Worm in the Apple?
IT criticism of the iPad's enterprise-readiness has readers crying foul. Does the problem lie in IT intransigence, or could Apple be doing more?
Back in April, Campus Technology published "IT Does Not Love iPads," which examined the challenge of implementing iPads and other Apple devices in an enterprise setting. Given the response from readers, you would have thought we had advocated eating children for breakfast. One blogger in particular worked himself up into a spittle-flecked rage, devoting an entire post to heaping scorn on the piece. Given the blogger's tight connection with Apple via conferences and consulting gigs, his bias is understandable, but I think the wider indignation has its roots in a different problem: faculty antipathy toward IT. At many institutions, IT departments--many of which are Microsoft shops--are perceived to be focused more on their own needs than those of their campus constituents. By dissing the immensely popular iPad, IT simply confirms what some readers already believed.
There's probably some truth to these suspicions. The consumerization of IT is forcing rapid change on campuses--change to which some IT departments have been slow to adapt. On the other hand, some of the criticism smacks of a me-first sense of entitlement. "IT people need to stop whining and simply do what it takes to implement any device (regardless of how hard it appears to be) into the enterprise infrastructure," wrote one reader.
That's all well and good in a fairyland of unlimited budgets and resources, but IT is living under the same "new normal" as everyone else. CIOs have to make hard choices about what technology their departments can support, and compromises must be made. For faculty to expect IT to act like hotel bellhops whenever they snap their fingers is both insulting and impractical.
IOS is different, though: It's not some obscure operating system used by a tiny fraction of the campus population. Apple holds a significant chunk of market share, so IT cannot and should not ignore it. And, as far as I can tell, most IT shops have committed the resources to support the operating system on their campuses.
But I think IT departments have a legitimate reason to query why expensive third-party products are often necessary to integrate iPads into the enterprise. It's not as if Apple doesn't aggressively pursue the school market. Since I was an editor for Electronic Learning magazine back in the mid-'80s, Apple has embraced--and been embraced by--the education sector. Indeed, schools (and design departments) were the only places where Apple had any traction for a while.
Apple's defenders respond with a yes-but, claiming that the iPad is only a consumer device. Well, tell that to the Apple salespeople selling iPads into schools by the hundreds of thousands; tell that to the folks running iTunes U. Apple is in education. And that's fantastic because the iPad is a fabulous learning tool. But the company can do better than palming schools off on third-party vendors to handle the nuts and bolts of device management.
Andrew Barbour is the former executive editor of Campus Technology.