Apple Channel Strategy Ripens With New Hires, iPad Certification

While Apple for years has had a number of solution provider partners that evangelize and sell its products, the company has never been considered overly friendly to the channel. Now, with iPhones and iPads flooding into organizations and creating a need for integration services, Apple is thinking differently about the role that the channel can play in its business.

In the past year, Apple has hired at least 10 channel executives and mid-level managers whose backgrounds collectively include dozens of years of experience at some of the industry's most channel-focused companies. Apple has also quietly launched a Mobility Technical Competency (MTC), through which solution providers can become members of the Apple Consultants Network and obtain technical services certification for deploying iPhones and iPads on enterprise networks.

One of the new hires is Francois Daumard, a 12-year Microsoft channel veteran who came to Apple in May and is now managing iPhone and iPad channel development. As one of the driving forces behind MTC, Daumard is responsible for recruitment and sales enablement of partners that are looking to deploy mobility solutions on the iPhone and iPad, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Apple didn't respond to a request for comment on whether the recent hires are part of a strategy to increase its level of channel expertise. The company also didn't respond to an inquiry about how much of its business goes through the channel.

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Cohen Barnes, president and CEO of TBC Net, a Sycamore, Ill.-based solution provider, said MTC is strategically important because it allows Apple to leverage the skills of Microsoft solution providers. ’Apple isn’t geared up to support the Microsoft side and the integration of these devices with Windows-based networks,’ Barnes said. ’Apple will now have the ability to reach out to predominantly Microsoft partners in a way they haven’t been able to in the past.’

This is an intriguing development because one of Apple’s core guiding principles is that its products are so simple they don’t require high-level IT support. But the consumerization of IT makes complexity an inevitable fact of life for enterprise CIOs, who must ensure that iPhones and iPads are connecting to the network securely and that corporate data on these devices is safe. CIOs must also make granular decisions, such as which applications can run and whether to disable device cameras for security purposes.

Cognizant of these challenges, Apple is turning to solution providers to ensure that when enterprise customers are accessing their corporate calendar, e-mail and address books on Apple mobile devices, they’re doing so securely. MTC is intended to identify a go-to team of partners Apple can turn to for iPhone and iPad integration work.

While existing Apple Consultants Network members also have integration skills, their focus has traditionally been on the Mac platform and desktops and servers. Essentially, Apple has a gap when it comes to the expertise necessary to deploy mobile devices in enterprise network environments, and that’s the impetus behind MTC, according to solution providers familiar with the program.

NEXT: Why Apple Launched The Mobility Technical Competency

’Larger clients have been coming to us for help because there isn’t any clear documentation from Apple on how to support these mobile devices in the enterprise,’ said Craig Cohen, president of HCS Technology Group, an Apple consultancy in Bohemia, N.Y.

That Apple is waking up to the benefits of working with the channel makes sense considering the speed and volume of iPhone and iPad sales. Apple will report fourth-quarter results on Oct. 18, but in its fiscal third quarter the company sold 20.34 million iPhones, up 142 percent year over year, and 9.25 million iPads, up 183 percent year over year. It's just-unveiled iPhone 4S racked up over 1 million pre-orders in the first 24 hours it was available. And with the vast majority of Fortune 500 firms either deploying iOS devices or considering doing so, integrating these devices into corporate networks is an emerging area of opportunity for the channel.

HCS Technology Group’s Cohen, who was one of the partners Apple reached out to for help in drawing up the MTC technical prerequisites, credits Daumard and Mimi Basu, senior manager of the Apple Consultants Network, for providing the strategic vision behind MTC. ’Apple wanted to create a class that will not only teach people the technical parts of supporting iOS, but also the core requirements to manage it as a real business,’ he said.

According to Apple documentation viewed by CRN, to be eligible for MTC, a VAR must have a both a Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP) with Enterprise Administrator on Windows Server 2008 and a Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS) for Exchange Server 2010. Another option is to have a Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) in both security and wireless, or a single staff member with CompTIA Network+ certification.

It's an easier road for VARs that have a staff member with a background working with Apple products: They need only to update that person's skills to Apple Certified Technical Coordinator 10.6 and Security and Mobility 10.6.

The next step toward MTC involves getting this person trained, starting with "iPhone and iPad Technical Training for Enterprise", a series of four courses that cover iOS device integration. The final step is, a two-day, $400 iOS workshop that focuses on strategies for providing secure access from mobile devices to services running on private networks, according to the Apple documentation.

Apple didn't respond to a request for comment on the MTC training requirements.

Arlin Sorensen, CEO of Heartland Technology Solutions and HTG Peer Groups, is now a member of the Apple Consultants Network and expects to obtain MTC certification for one of his engineers next month. Other HTG members would benefit by engaging with Apple, he said.

"This is a significant opportunity for you to enter the mobility area ahead of the competition and become the local ’mobility guru’ that is able to help small and large businesses alike place mobile devices on their networks in a secure and meaningful manner," Sorensen said in a newsletter to HTG members last month.

NEXT: Gauging The Channel's Interest In MTC

VARs that have obtained MTC certification told CRN that it's already paying dividends. "Our Apple business has grown pretty significantly [since obtaining MTC], and the real opportunity is on the services side," said John Convery, executive vice president of vendor relations and marketing at Denali Advanced Integration, a Redmond, Wash.-based solution provider.

Marco Nielsen, vice president of services for Enterprise Mobile, a Plano, Texas-based services firm that was acquired by Intermec in March, has completed the MTC certification himself and has signed up four of his employees to do the same. So far, he's impressed with the impact MTC is having in sales discussions.

"It definitely helps. My team is involved in the pre-sales cycle and talking to customers about services. Customers like the fact that there's a certification now in place," Nielsen said.

MTC represents an official affiliation with Apple that solution providers can use for marketing purposes, and many are looking forward to the opportunity. "We're going to market this on our Web site and through direct mail. We're going to let people know that if that if they have Apple mobile devices and need implementation work, we're qualified to handle it," said TBC Net's Barnes.

While MTC represents a potential shift in Apple's approach to the channel, VARs are equally optimistic about the long-term implications of the company's recent flurry of channel hires. Stuart MacLennan, national director of sales at Apple, is in the process of re-building a channel team after the departure of several longtime Apple channel employees, an executive from one national solution provider told CRN.

Notable recent hires include Darci Reimund, former head of North American channels for Google Enterprise, who joined Apple in June as manager of business applications on the App Store and Mac App Store; and Steve Lieberman, manager of Apple's U.S. corporate reseller channel, who joined in September after a 15-year career at Hewlett-Packard, where he held a variety of channel storage sales roles.

NEXT: Is Apple Really Embracing The Channel?

"Apple has been lean on the channel side for a very long time, but now they're growing their channel capability and evolving it," said the source, who requested anonymity. "They're doing well, but I do think they could do significantly better if they had more traditional approach."

In addition to being satisfied with his MTC certification, Convery is also encouraged by Apple's efforts to bring in experienced channel veterans. "They're really at the initial stages of building out their partner and VAR programs for enterprises," said Convery. "I’m confident that knowing most of the people joining the Apple team, they appreciate the power and reach of the channel."

Building a channel program takes time, particularly when it comes to building trust, and Apple certainly has plenty of work to do in this area. But as Daumard has shown, bringing in executives that understand the needs of the channel can have an immediate and profound impact, although it remains to be seen if it will be a lasting one.

For now, solution providers are ready to give Apple credit for recognizing the specialized skills that the channel can bring, even if they're not yet fully convinced that obtaining MTC certification will translate into more iPhone and iPad services business.

"We are unsure about what that really means," Heartland's Sorensen said. "More and more of our SMB customers are using iPhones and iPads, so we believe there is opportunity. But that is yet to be determined."