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Putting a smile back on the faces of Apple Mac users

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Experts in what we do, Open, Technology, Unity without uniformity

Image by Aidan Hancock using Creative Commons Licence 2.0 

I've been in IT for more years than I'd care to admit and this has mostly involved managing Windows machines. But in every place I've worked there are users who want or need Macs. Apple machines can be hard to get working well in an office environment. At Parliamentwe recently proved this 

We're looking to relaunch our service for Mac users. As the Head of Device Management at Parliament, I want to take this opportunity to explain the challenges we've faced, and what we're doing to try and meet them. 

A different experience when a Mac is used at work

In my opinion, Mac users tend to be less forgiving if their home and work machines work differently. Most people who use a Windows machine at home expect that the one they're given at work will not give them the same experience: 

  • They won’t have permission to install apps
  • There are some settings that they can't change
  • They can't change the bland corporate picture and replace it with a photo of their cat/dog/fish
  • Just as they're about to do something important, up pops the message 'this machine will need to reboot to update' (yes, we do this on purpose to annoy you). 

What I've found is that people with an iMac or a MacBook at home are often less likely to be happy with the equivalent experience on a work Mac. Why is that?

Windows users feel they have (some) control 

Microsoft has been selling software to large organisations for years. It's a big reason why they generate huge profits. They develop Windows to suit home and business worlds. This means that they've become pretty good (not perfect) at allowing a work user enough control to feel like they can change some things even if they don't have administrative rights to the machine. 

Apple is all about catering to the smaller, more creative business and the consumer market. In other words you sitting in your living room. Apple hasn’t needed to change the way their products work to suit large organisations, because pressure from people who love Apple devices have made IT departments change the way they work to support Macs, iPads and iPhones. So MacOS (the operating system on Macs) is not as good at this as Windows machines. When a Mac is locked down, it feels really locked down. And that's annoying. 

Macs look the part but they are harder to support 

Also, just look at Macs. They're beautiful things. Entire underground design labs have spent years honing these objects to make you look irrefutably creative in cafés or design studios. Allowing your IT department to get their hands on it and ruin it is sacrilege. 

Given that, they're generally a little harder to support. This is largely because there are far fewer of them. You need different tools and processes and you need to train your staff to know what to do when they go wrong. You need to be able to get software on to them and to update it. It's not impossible. Plenty of places do this well. But when you support Macs as well as Windows devices, and you aspire to give both groups of people a similarly excellent experience, this is challenging. 

Another bite at the Apple 

Parliament is looking to do this. We've tried before and fallen short. We took Macs off our catalogue (see here for what I mean by catalogue) a while ago and have been debating internally how to get them back on. So we've hired some consultants to come in. Over 10 weeks they will speak to as many people as possible to learn why we fell short last time, to gather opinions on how we can do better next time and to ensure that we learn from our mistakes. 

We need to make sure we’re talking to the right people. We've cast the net as wide as we can to ensurthat all of our customer groups are covered, that we're including techy people, non-techy people, people who use Macs for specialist software, and people who use them for word processing and browsing. We’re using a consultancy to get a ‘warts and all’ view on what went wrong last time.   

We understand a lot of this already. Some of the technology we used needs to be replaced and we need to train some of our people better. But we need to dig deeper to make sure we do things better in future.

Our service needs to go beyond the technology

One of the biggest challenges around setting up something like this is to make sure it's approached as a whole service. We need to think not only about the technology but all the other parts that make it work well, such as: 

  • staff training
  • the purchasing process
  • hardware repairs
  • communicating to Apple users why they can't do everything they want to
  • making sure we can support a new version of MacOS quickly after it's released
  • updating software in a timely way
  • evaluating and supporting new hardware when it comes out. 

There's a lot to it. But if we consider all these elements when we're talking to our stakeholders, we're more likely to capture the right information and build something that'll work for everyone. 

You’re invited to the MacBook discovery project 'Show and Tell'

So yes, Macs can be hard to do at work. But it can be done and armed with the right information we plan to do it better and to keep working at it.

Come to the MacBook device discovery project Show and Tell’ to hear the results of the 10-week user research project, make your voice heard and learn what’s happening next. Thursday 10 October, outside Room 238, Richmond House, 10 to 11 am. See you there.

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  1. Comment by Ian Rossenrode posted on

    Hi Sean, interesting and yes, Macs are not for certain ‘working environments’ - and I imagine particularly at Parliament, as in your case... However as you and I both worked at London universities at one time, you will recall how prevalent and popular Macs are with students and as you elude to, ‘us creatives’ love our Apple Macs...

    Actually, some years ago, in my time with Saatchi, I was asked by my ‘creative’ team, as to which was the ‘better computer’ - Mac or PC. My first response was that ‘Mac was the ‘better machine’... With the ‘PC lovers’ immediately reacting in shock and horror, I quickly qualified my claim by explaining that the PC was a ‘superior machine’, as it was suitable for all (and could of course be added to, modified and enhanced easier), but the Mac was the ‘better machine’ as it was ‘plug and play’ and was ideal for those who didn’t want nor need to ‘tinker’ with the hardware or OS...
    (You may recall that I always had both PC and Mac machines, so forgive my bias when I say I have found my Macs to be more stable and robust over the years, but I do understand the difficulties and challenges for ‘Mac support’)

    • Replies to Ian Rossenrode>

      Comment by Sean Brazier posted on

      Hi Ian. Yes, it's horses for courses isn't it? We've all got bias in us, and what I'm certainly not trying to do here is to say that one is better than the other. Macs are certainly better at some kinds of jobs, and what I've found the real challenge is supporting both at the same time. I'm writing on this from my house, on a MacBook. Cheers!