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IBM cuts down IT support staff w/ Mac deployment, says 5% of Mac users call help desk vs 40% for PCs

Apple CEO Tim Cook with IBM CEO Ginni Rometty

Apple CEO Tim Cook with IBM CEO Ginni Rometty

Deploying Macs to employees has helped IBM significantly reduce its IT staff and cut down on time and costs, the company’s VP of Workplace-as-a-Service Fletcher Previn explained at a recent talk during the JAMF Nation User Conference (JNUC). Previn offered some insight into how offering Macs has improved efficiency for the company’s internal IT staff since IBM for the first time started offering its employees Macs as an official alternative to PCs back in May.

Previn noted that “Every Mac that we buy is making and saving IBM money,” and that “A Mac still has value three or four years down the road.” An example of the added value of using Macs versus PCs is the amount of support required. IBM has just 24 help desk staff that are supporting around 130,000 Mac and iOS devices deployed throughout the company. That’s just one support member for 5,375 employees, but Previn boasts that’s because only approximately 5% of Mac users request support compared to around 40% of its PC using employees.

Previn said that Gartner believes the optimal number of IT to employees should be 1:70. Previn noted that the average is 1:242. And IBM is currently hovering around 1:5,400. Wow!

IBM originally planned to deploy around 50,000 new Macs to the company by the end of the year when it first announced the initiative back in May. At the JAMF conference it said it’s currently deploying around 1,900 Macs per week with 130,000 Apple devices already in use at the company.

A couple months back Apple and IBM announced an expanded partnership that will see it distribute and support enterprise Macs for other companies in addition to its work together to deploy and support iOS devices and software.

IBM is using JAMF’s Casper suite to deploy software to the Macs.

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  1. chaityacshah - 7 years ago

    1:5400 is a very good ratio!

  2. rvinny - 7 years ago

    With all these Macs, what does IBM use for Office documents?

  3. trevogre - 7 years ago

    I guess you can’t argue with results. I would do it anyway. You can’t compare use of iMacs with use of pcs without considering what the company was offering its users. Were they buying cheap bargain pcs that were failing their users in performance and stability or were they buying carefully selected hardware and unifying support across their enterprise to reduce support incidents. In an environment where you buy 100’s to thousands of different pcs you are subject to a vast array of potential failures. You also have to consider that you can buy more power in a pc for less money. So effectively they have outsourced the hardware selection process by paying the premium that Apple charges and dropped the opportunity to buy more powerful pcs because they were failing to manage their environment. If they would have rolled out a Windows environment on a similar schedule to an iMac rollout. Carefully selecting a small set of hardware that was tested for their specific applications and only rolling out that option once a year they likely could have reduced support incidents and provided more powerful machines that they could support cheaper and do repairs for in house. This article doesn’t mention hardware failure support specifically. How much Mac repair will they now have to outsource because they can’t internally handle repairs, drive upgrades, memory and motherboard replacements.

    This kind of reeks of the arguments for the cloud where you can get a huge cost savings if you haven’t optimized but once you start optimizing you go back to you own systems architecture to acquire gains.

    They could be right. I just don’t think this is the whole story. Many people complain about pcs just because they buy bottom shelf. That doesn’t mean their isn’t good product that requires less support.

    • iphonenick (@iphonenick) - 7 years ago

      You’re focused on hardware, but the vast majority of helpdesk calls are OS and application related.

      • trevogre - 7 years ago

        OS and applications run on hardware. The reason why apple doesn’t have as many issues there is because they unify the platform into a few tested models each year that run the software. If you buy off the shelf pcs and a different model for each employee, so models will fail with the same is and software, some won’t. So if you test your platform before you rollout you can expect consistent performance for your users. This is why lots of companies don’t allow users to install new software. So they know that things perform in an expected planned way.

        I would say I’m not focus on hardware. I’m focused on a holistic review. Buy going with Apple they are simply eliminating variables. That doesn’t mean they couldn’t eliminate variables and have more powerfully pcs for a lower cost that they could support in house. That is just not what they chose to do.

        Without knowing how the pcs became a problem you can’t say that Mac was the only solution or even a better solution. It’s possible that they just didn’t have a disciplined team controlling rollout.

        When you have to support staff that can choose any pc and software you will have massive support costs. So a real comparison would be with a business that rolled out one model of pc to all its users and then supported it. Because that is effectively what Apple is, a pc option that effectively has one model.

        The article suggests the user should make the leap that Apple is superior. That is an unfair and dishonest assessment because it is apples to oranges.

        The move from pcs is plotted on a single dimension, support costs. It doesn’t take into account that you can make a large amount of those improvements and still use pcs and it doesn’t say anything about the cost of purchase Apple machines vs. pcs, or the relative value to power of those machines.

        It is just spin, in might not be wrong, but leaving out the other dimensions makes it spin.

      • strawbis - 7 years ago

        I’ll also wager that a lot of the calls were Malware related, rather than hardware issues.

        It’s open season on Windows, and with Macs having a virtually closed OS it leaves less scope for a user to download any old junk like you can with Windows! That said, Whilst productivity may increase because of less downtime, it may still work out to be an expensive longer term strategy as users learn how to bypass OSX security restrictions and start to install their own junk.

        Their IT Dept had better be au fait with Apple’s file systems in advance, or they’ll be rehiring staff in next to no time.

    • dcperin - 7 years ago

      You can have all the powerful hardware in the world, but it makes no difference if the OS or software doesn’t run properly. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, but I don’t care what you pay for a computer, it should work. To say buying a more powerful machine is a solution to that problem is a bogus excuse. If it can’t handle what it’s doing with the hardware it came with, don’t offer it…

    • Chad Hill (@JavaChilly) - 7 years ago

      You must not be involved in hardware acquisitions for service organizations in the past 5 years to see these trends. 1.) No one is getting an iMac. Even the graphic artists get a laptop and separate high-end screen. 2.) Everyone gets a laptop. 3.) Hardware is definitely shipped out to be repaired. They have 1 tech for every 5,400 people, they are not doing hardware repairs. 4.) Windows PCs, be they desktop or laptop, have been standardized by corporations the exact same way as Macs, one or two official company models. They did this ages ago in part to help reduce the amount of difference so they could have some hopes of providing consistent support. Using Macs that further that philosophy is a very logical decision to make.

      • wdm6502 - 7 years ago

        We actually may get iMacs for our studio – they rarely need to travel with a computer, and upper management has decided refreshing monitors isn’t a great idea. So, with a 5k iMac they get a very fast computer plus one of the best monitors you can buy… Our art directors and such will still be getting Macbook Pros though. But sure, a much smaller desire for desktops than in the past.

    • yoitssenghy - 7 years ago

      This actually all makes perfect sense. I understand your want to assemble and configure your systems as you see fit. But the truth is definitely in the numbers here. I work in software development and deal with IT all the time and I can assure you that from my experience, the mac is a more stable platform regardless of the hardware-software configuration. I have so many examples that I will only give you one.

      I was given a $2000 Dell development laptop with a company standardized image of Windows 8 in 2013, configured to perfection by our IT staff. At a training event hosting around 75 employees, there were 20 blue-screens on arrival of the units, luckily mine wasn’t one of them, however as I used the machine (security was good) I ran into many other issues. When given a project to develop a javascript and .NET library library for internal use, I just couldn’t do it with the company laptop (I know… so sad.. with a couple blue-screens along the way). So, I leveraged my $1100 mid-spec’d 2011 Macbook Pro. It worked to perfection, running Windows 8 off a VM. The performance increase was surprisingly noticeable. The windows laptop had better Specs.. a newer i7 vs my macs i5.. with more cores but the same ram at 16gb, but as this article aims to state.. There is just more stability in the mac platform. I am actually typing this on that same 2011 macbook pro LOL. while running windows server 2012 R2 which I allocated 6GB of my 16GB memory too for other .NET work I am currently doing and with some music production applications running in the background on OS X El Capitan’s latest pubic beta… while on Safari.

      It is the same argument with the specs race with Android to be honest. All this new tech with phones with terabytes of memory (sarcasm) and 32 core processors (more sarcasm) is to battle the inherent issues of a non unified platform. They are safe guards. Windows and Android are not homogenized platforms (yet); they are fragmented (the reason why Microsoft is making their own hardware now, in the footsteps of Apple) and that fragmentation is what causes these system wide issues. Getting things to communicate which are ALMOST, but not QUITE the same will always cause these issues. It is simply an engineering problem (I’m an EE/CS guy). You can throw as many pieces as you want at the problem, but if they were not designed to work together, than it not only wont be as efficient, but also, it will have more of these inherent issues.

      Now, I haven’t opened up an iPhone 6S and analyzed or troubleshot the circuit or done math on the layouts, or done any amount of testing on the device, but I can tell you that there is a reason why in 2015 when other top-tier phones have terabytes of memory (this is my last time, I’m just being a jerk now lol), that the iPhone 6S still only has 2GB, and that is because it doesn’t need it.

      To summarize and make a long story less long, that company issued laptop couldn’t hold a candle to this 4 year old mac of mine (The Dell actually died on me, I got a new one and that one did the same :((( ), I don’t actually even think about upgrading my macbook (only screen size, I’m still on 1280 x 800 hahaha). It runs beautifully.

      -By the way, I was a dedicated Microsoft/Windows user my whole life.. Never really used a mac in my younger days. Started assembling my Windows based machines at 9 or 10 (Like 13 years of dedication given I started using computers at home around 7 years old). This macbook was my first Mac.. All my other Windows devices, off’d themselves at some point. I’ve never owned a computer this long without issues, so I may be biased hahaha.

    • rnc - 7 years ago

      “Were they buying cheap bargain pcs that were failing”


      They don’t’ buy cheap PC’s that are too weak, not in orders of thousands.

      The problem is the software.

      Sorry, Mac > Windows.

      • jakexb - 7 years ago

        Yeah, I somehow doubt IBM was buying anything but Lenovo Thinkpads and Thinkstations.

      • Trevor A Green - 7 years ago

        You just contradicted yourself. You mention a Dell that didn’t work with windows and blue screened but the windows image was tuned to perfection, and then you say you ran windows on your mac and it worked fine.

        So windows wasn’t the problem in your case. This article is about running Macs with OSX I assume. You make my point for me. There is nothing wrong with saying that a Mac is a well constructed PC that runs windows great and is a reliable machine to buy for that purpose.

        But to also say that your company did a good job is false by your own words. You say they picked Dell hardware that they clearly didn’t test well if most of them blue screened and the same windows worked fine on the mac.

        That is the problem with windows. Hardware choice allows people who pick bad hardware and point to the closed Mac ecosystem as superior. That is not the whole story. Choice in an of itself allows you to pick pc hardware that exceeds the specifications of a Mac with a lower price point and more flexibility.

        Just because many people fail at making that choice doesn’t mean that there is no PC hardware that is a better value than a Mac.

        You can argue that if you just don’t want to take any chances or find those cost savings, you can turn your life over to Apple and just get good machines that are well tested. That is true, but that scenario has its own limitations that must be acknowledge if the conversation is going to be factual. Especially if you are not running windows and running with the limitations of the proprietary Mac OS.

        We should also not forget that they only reason Apple exists is because of the technological developments funded by mass market PC’s. They use intel chips with commodities of scale reached only through the existence of the PC market. PCs are where the cutting edge products cut their teeth before they filter down into Apple products.

    • mrkepner - 7 years ago

      why would you assume that a company as large as IBM had a poor Windows support solution? Sure, it’s possible that’s the case, but unlikely. A company that large and established has undoubtedly been through the process many many times. It seems like a poor assumption to think that they were buying PCs that didn’t adhere to a hardware standard originally. I work for a pretty small company (1500 corporate employees) and we have a partnership with Microsoft and Dell, use SCCM, etc. I myself support about 100 OS X machines here with no management solution at all, and in my experience, our Mac users call in less than PC users. It is a much much smaller scale than IBM for sure, but I wouldn’t attribute all of this to “spin.”

      • Trevor A Green - 7 years ago

        Of course the facts aren’t necessarily untrue, spin means that you cherry pick how you tell the story and what facts you include, not that you are being false. I don’t make the assumption that they were bad at picking PC’s. Those facts are just not reported, so you can’t assume the opposite.

        Knowing how PCs are handled in general with model after model coming in the door to match whatever budgetary constraints go along with staffing and the fact that you are going to buy today’s pc to get value and longevity, not the standardize one selected a year ago. The PC market naturally lends itself to bad hardware coming in the door. A legitimate point in favor of Macs but certainly not the only consideration. Notice they didn’t report on the total cost of ownership of the Macs. Just on the support reduction.

        Can we not conceive of a scenario where flexibility in hardware is worth support costs? Certainly not in all use cases. The math is just not being reported. I’m willing to accept the conclusions, I’d just like to know the full story.

    • sewollef - 7 years ago

      Wel, I’m guessing that the Vice President of IT at IBM has looked into the many, many options for rollout of computers to staff. He came to the conclusion that deploying Macs made good economical sense. And no, you cannot argue with those figures. Failure rates for PCs being what they are, I’m not surprised.

      He’s says just that. Sure he could have spent more time, resources and money, and bought higher-specced PCs. However, as other posters here have pointed out, some of the software issues with PCs would remain and those are related to malware that are introduced in the course of a normal day.
      He took the decision to install what seems to amount to off-the-shelf Macs.

      My wife is global director of communications for her $9.0 billion company. All PC-based. She is now on her third PC in the last 4 years. The current one [just 4-months in] is a Microsoft Surface. Her comments about its build quality, weight, software integration and usability are unprintable. Let’s just say, she thinks it a piece of sh*t. She’s needed IT for the Surface three times already.

      • Trevor A Green - 7 years ago

        Congratulations to your wife, sounds like she is doing well.

        Malware is a problem with people installing software. That is an IT issue where if you allow your environment to contain pcs that allow the users to install software you end up with users that corrupt their computers. You can also install software that assists in preventing that if you must have your users have control over their machines. I control my own machine but it is extremely rare that I have infected it. And when I did it was never because I was doing something related to my core business.

        Trading freedom for safety is a valid choice. It just doesn’t tell the whole story. Sure you have to accept risk in the PC market, but that is because of its openness. And openness is messy, but it is also the right moral choice. Apple’s cordoning off of it’s OS from other hardware vendors gives them an artificial advantage that has allowed their business to control the message and create a market that is monopoly size and cannibalizes sales from the more open PC market. Decouple the OS and you will quickly find that you are extremely impressed by all the places that windows can go, all the form factors, and all the devices that you can run your software on, cheap and expensive. OSX just can’t do that. Windows and Android, that is where we need to be with OS software. Not in a proprietary ecosystem, no matter how enticing the siren song is. You will get trapped in their cost structure and you agility will wither.

  4. Jake Becker - 7 years ago

    “That’s because Mac is for stupid non-tecchie people, because if computing isn’t continuing to be an unnecessary pain in the ass in 2015, that’s bad!”

    Sorry, just getting that out of the way for any of the WIndows or Android trolls…

    • trevogre - 7 years ago

      Isn’t your sarcasm the trolling? I’m sure you can make a more substinative argument in support of this article.

  5. PJ (@D00mM4r1n3) - 7 years ago

    As someone that works in desktop support for a living I can provide some insight on why Macs would result in fewer support calls:
    1.) Most tickets are for software support on systems that are over 3 years old, with IBM only having started deploying Macs last May, they have not reached the point yet where they need to support older systems trying to access newer services.
    2.) When it comes to hardware problems, most hardware failures occur with laptops, ignoring the age of the systems for the moment, MacBook’s have the following advantages that Win PC users do not get with their company provided laptops:
    -PCIe SSD storage (standard on all MacBooks)
    -Integrated battery that cannot come loose during travel/mishandling
    -No exposed holes or ports on the bottom of the device, most importantly cooling is limited to a narrow gap along the back of a MacBook (less cat hair intrusion, cats = laptop murderers)
    3.) No Flash support = fewer viruses

    Problems I expect IBM to run into:
    -Cost of repair for broken keyboards that are not easily swappable
    -More users on wi-fi than before (interference, dead zones, etc…)
    -Graphics performance for CAD work

    • rnc - 7 years ago

      Whats this all about

      1. No, this is in the same interval of time, and it’s about the % users that request tech support
      2. Those are design advantages, but IBM is using Lenovo Thinkpads, not crappy $200 garbage bins you see in the supermaket
      3. Do you know what a Mac is? What OS X is? Macs have Flash support.

    • shoegazeer4 - 7 years ago

      I’m a casper admin and I’ve worked in quite a few PC and Mac enterprises and I can tell you that as the amount of macs increase in the business so do the amount of mac support calls. I’d like to see their figures on mac related support calls after a year.
      Most will be software issues on macs or related to macs and having issues with network shares.

      what i’d like to know is that actual helpdesk staff (reseting passwords or fixing keychains) or mac admins creating packages etc?

  6. darkfader - 7 years ago

    You’re more productive if you use something that has a working software stack?
    Well, congrats to corporate decision makers finally arriving at the knowledge level of IT staff in 2001.

  7. Paul Andrew Dixon - 7 years ago

    From personal experience with macs i had one for 4 years and just upgraded… my still is still using hers thats almost 6 years old… and my friend has only just upgraded after 7 years using a mac… on all 3 macs the power blocks were replaced (my sister managed to cut the cable with the recliner chair, my friend snagged it, and mine actually did develop a fault)…for all of us we have noticed our macs slowing – although with recent OS updates things improved, and when i changed to a SDD it helped — only my sister had to replace her hard drive due to it being faulty…

    I think the only software fault was wifi on my sister laptop which was fixed via an update…

    I havent met anyone with a mac who has had any major issues with the technical side of things – and if they have they were easily resolved via an update, online support or the apple store… of course their are people who do have issues, and even people with genuine faults…

    As for windows – i am constantly getting calls from my parents about their desktop and/or laptop – my friend who works in an IT department told me he switched to a mac because he didnt want to have to deal with the same problems at work when he got home…

    When windows is working, it is great… but it quickly develops issues – often updates need an update, and you are constantly doing virus checks, and you have defragment all the time, and you have to hope that the components from different companies come out with updates – my friend is still using a windows display driver in safe mode because the actual driver doesnt work and he’s waiting for an update.

    The only major positive thing for windows is that you can buy really cheap PCs, which is great for new companies setting up etc.
    Most people are put off the cost of a mac, and also because it is different… my parents keep thinking of changing but they are worried it will be too confusing and too different for them… although their computers are telling them to upgrade to windows 10 but they are hesitant because they are used to windows 7 (my dad wasnt happy when he had to change from XP to 7…lol)

    • dcperin - 7 years ago

      Anyone that I know that has committed to move from Windows to Mac has been happy after they finally did. Mac is so user friendly. I always tell people if you never knew anything about computers and picked up a MacBook, it’s 10 times easier to learn than Windows. I have two MBP’s. My oldest one is the first generation aluminum unibody designSo that was 08 or 09 right? Still runs like a champ. My other is the newest Retina Display, i7, 16gb ram 500gb SSD. BEAST. Talk them into the switch. I don’t think I’ve EVER met a person that regretted spending the $ on it or didn’t like it.

  8. mytawalbeh - 7 years ago

    Interesting numbers!, they should’ve done this long time ago.

  9. Ben Miller - 7 years ago

    Help desk = Full IT Staff, who knew that Sysadmins, Network admins/engineers, DNS admins, etc, were either all helpdesk(24 people support one of the biggest environments in the world, no really!) or not IT staff!

  10. It’s reasonable to assume that an iMac costs about USD 1000 more per machine, compared to a Windows machine with similar specs. So a little calculation gives us the following:

    130.000 machines x USD 1000 = USD 130.000.000 saved every 4 years when using Windows machines

    Support cost will increase 8x: currently 24 help desk staff will become 192. Help desk staff difference = 168 people

    USD 130.000.000 / 168 = USD 773.809,52 = the salary + office costs of one employee per 4 years to break even when using Windows PC’s and having more support employees to support that.

    USD 773.809 / 4 years = USD 193.452 per year salary + office costs.

    Now I’m wondering, even though there are less support employees, is it really cheaper to use Macs instead of Windows PCs?

    I’m pretty sure a regular IT help desk support employee doesn’t make an enormous amount of money per month, but I could be wrong of course.

  11. Spot Ify - 7 years ago

    I’d venture to guess that the better ratio for Mac users has more to do with the level of sophistication in the user versus anything to do with the actual piece of equipment. I currently use a Macbook Pro for personal and an HP PC for work (similar hardware specs), and while the Mac is better as a laptop for me, it’s not better as a standard desktop, and certainly not as good as its reputation in terms of simplicity. In fact, I’d say I probably need more help with the Mac than the PC, but that’s just me (relatively technically savvy end user). It’d be interesting to see the demographic on the typical IBM Mac user vs. IBM PC user, as I’m fairly certain it would complete the story (and not in favor of the Mac). The other side of this one is research bias; whoever within IBM decided to spend double or triple on the Macs needs to justify the expenditure somehow. Numbers don’t lie, but will confess just about anything you want when throttled long enough.

  12. fabrica64 - 7 years ago

    It was IBM that started Microsoft and their way to make crap software. IBM is the one responsible for it and should pay high IT cost for eternity, not switch to Mac :-)


Avatar for Jordan Kahn Jordan Kahn

Jordan writes about all things Apple as Senior Editor of 9to5Mac, & contributes to 9to5Google, 9to5Toys, & He also co-authors 9to5Mac’s Logic Pros series.