Apple insignificant in the enterprise? How does 549% growth sound to you?

There’s been some interesting debate in the Lotus community over the past couple of weeks regarding the importance (or not) of the Apple Mac in enterprise computing.  

I’m not going to rehash those arguments here, simply link to a enlightening post on Ars Technica (thanks for the link, Ben – emphasis mine):

Analysis by market research firm IDC shows that Mac sales growth in the last fiscal quarter was nearly seven times that of the overall PC market with Apple outgrowing overall PCs for 19 consecutive quarters, or nearly five years running. But the Mac’s biggest gains aren’t in the education, home, or small business segments, where the Mac has traditionally thrived—they come from large businesses and government sales.

For the quarter ending December 2010, IDC recorded an overall 3.4 percent year-over-year growth for the PC market. Mac sales, on the other hand, grew 23.5 percent. Enterprise sales were a big part of the Mac’s success; while overall PC sales to business grew 9.7 percent for the quarter, Macs were up 65.4 percent. Mac sales saw big gains in every business category, surpassing overall PC sales by large margins. And while sales to small businesses and home offices grew handsomely, the biggest growth area for the Mac was “very large business,” where Mac sales doubled over the same quarter last year.

Mac vs. PC growth

While government sales are a very small part of Mac sales—about 1 percent—growth in this segment is nearly 600 percent compared to the PC industry’s 8.4 percent overall growth. That’s a big jump over the 200 percent government sales growth the Mac enjoyed just two quarters ago.

So Mac sales are running at an astonishing 500+% in government (compared to 8% for all vendors), and 108% in large enterprises (compared to 21%) and across all businesses, Apple is seeing 65% growth year-on-year versus less than 10% for the market.  Those are numbers that must be acknowledged – even if you believe that Macs are coming from a low baseline in large businesses, that kind of sales growth will alter the status quo pretty rapidly.

This chart raises a lot of questions for me about vendor strategy:

What’s Microsoft’s strategy going to be over the next 5 years should this trend continue?  It will continue to see it’s Windows cash-cow being diminished, and whilst there is a variant of Office for the Mac, it has a much lower market share on the OS X platform than it does on Windows.  Also, we are seeing the Mac App Store taking off since its launch a month or so ago – will Microsoft be willing to sell through that model or continue to rely on its existing distribution models.

How about IBM?  Whilst IBM’s commitment to client choice means we have an OS X version of the Notes, Sametime and Symphony clients, the vast majority of IBM enterprise software is not yet on the Mac platform.  Will this change?

What about truly ‘native’ Mac versions of industry software?  Whilst ports of clients like Notes are important, there’s no doubt that Mac software has a look, feel and design ethos that is very different to other platforms.  

Will we see business-software ISVs developing Mac versions that better suit the platform?  Will the consumer-driven Mac purchases mean that new ISVs take over from the traditional business vendors we know today?

One thing’s for sure…. Putting heads into the sand and singing ‘na-na-nah, I can’t see them’ when confronted with yet another roomful of Macbooks isn’t going to be an option!

Stuart McIntyre is a Senior Strategist at Fostering Community Limited. He curates a number of product-focused news sites, is a lapsed podcaster, founded the Social Connections user group and regularly speaks at conferences and events. This blog represents his own slightly-eccentric and usually-controversial opinions!