3 Parts to Digital Transformation From Apple WWDC 2019

At WWDC, Tim Cook explained the three-pronged approach of Apple’s strategy: hardware, software and services. These areas are part of the plan for most tech companies, but what makes Apple unique is the integrated approach it takes.

A stack of Apple productsLove it or hate it, there’s no denying that Apple has a significant impact on society and the tech landscape. With 1.4 billion active devices across phones, tablets, computers and wearables, Apple has built a massive platform. It has not always been the first out of the gate with innovations, but it has managed to fine-tune its designs in a way that resonates strongly with consumers. Between the huge install base and the influence it is able to exert, Apple’s offerings and announcements can give IT pros insight into the direction of the market, even if the products aren’t specifically built for enterprise.

The opening keynote at Apple Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) 2019 followed the script that been used for previous events: A parade of employees who were each very excited to describe upcoming products, eye-popping technical specifications and well-timed pauses for thunderous applause.

At the beginning of the show, though, there was a moment that passed quickly but shouldn’t be ignored. CEO Tim Cook stood in front of a slide showing the three-pronged approach of Apple’s strategy:

  • Hardware
  • Software
  • Services

Obviously these three areas are part of the plan for most tech companies, but what makes Apple unique is the integrated approach it takes. When talking about digital solutions, the emphasis is shifting more and more to services. However, it makes sense for IT pros to consider each one of these areas when leading their company through digital transformation.

1. Hardware

Perhaps more than any other company, Apple seeks to distinguish itself through its hardware. Because of this mindset, the company has come under fire recently for only providing marginal improvements or focusing on high-profile features over real innovation. But the announcement of a new Mac Pro computer shows that the hardware space is still important and the diversity of devices on the market – from Apple and other companies – is still something that many IT policies may not account for.

Several years ago, the big question for companies was whether or not they were going to allow employees to bring your own device (BYOD). The market actually took a surprising turn, with many firms leaning toward providing corporate devices to help maintain control and security.

Even so, device provisioning usually follows a set policy. Certain types of employees are offered certain types of devices, and these devices are refreshed on a specific schedule. Cost is the primary factor behind these policies, following a traditional view of IT as a cost center.

In an environment where IT investments are assessed more strategically, device policies might deserve a bit more flexibility. Perhaps a more expensive laptop truly does lead to higher productivity in some cases, or perhaps a tablet is a powerful companion to a laptop in other situations.

Equipment that costs more also might be on a longer refresh cycle. There are a lot of variables to consider, and that can lead to more complexity, but a robust device policy could have a significant impact on workflow and employee satisfaction.

2. Software

If Marc Andreessen had a nickel for every time someone mentioned that software was eating the world, he would have an awful lot of nickels. His famous essay from 2011 resonates so strongly because it was so prescient. As infrastructure has become more accessible and less of a differentiator, software is the tool that allows companies to customize their offerings and build automation.

As expected from a developer conference, software took the spotlight at Apple WWDC 2019. The annual releases of watchOS, iOS and macOS were all on display, and iPad continued its journey as a unique form factor by gaining its own operating system.

As machine learning becomes a greater part of any software application, there are two questions IT pros need to answer:

  1. How should workflow be built to take advantage of software capabilities?

    Transformation of workflow is a stage of technology adoption where many companies stall out because of the effort involved.

  2. What should happen when software completely takes over a given task?

    The implications of new artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms are explored in CompTIA’s latest research, Emerging Business Opportunities in AI, but the main takeaway is that there still needs to be a human component somewhere in the process to ensure that results don’t go haywire.

Especially in companies that have typically dealt only with packaged software, there is a long way to go in making software an active contributor to business success.

3. Services

At the end of the day, most companies are trying to reach customers through services, where the details have been abstracted away from the end user. Cloud computing has greatly accelerated this trend, with the original models of infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS) and software as a service (SaaS) leading to nearly any conceivable offering being provided as a service. There is some amount of marketing hype in many of these descriptions, but there is also a real paradigm shift taking place.

When building out a new service, it is natural to focus on functional features and details. Many technology workers come from an engineering or computer science background, where there is a defined goal that technology is meant to achieve. But modern shifts in technology, such as the scale of many solutions and the integration into society, are showing that digital solutions need to hit a broad range of criteria beyond the initial problem statement.

One new criterion that Apple focuses on is privacy. With a business model that does not rely on advertising, Apple can build services that do not rely on capturing user data. This is challenging when machine learning is part of the equation, but growing sensitivity around the handling of personal data suggests that an investment in privacy will pay off. Whenever IT pros are building solutions for internal use or customer engagement, they must now consider potential ripple effects and unintended consequences.

These lessons did not get created simply because Apple talked about them in the WWDC keynote. They have been growing concerns within the IT industry for some time, and announcements by Apple or any other major tech player simply highlight how IT needs to be thought about differently. As businesses adopt a more strategic mindset around technology, IT pros need to take the lead in making changes that successfully bridge proven methods and new opportunities.

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