During Apple's special event last month, the Cupertino, Calif.-based company made several big announcements that got lost in the hubbub surrounding the iPhone 7’s lack of a headphone jack.

During the event, Apple VP of product marketing Susan Prescott announced a major update to iWork — a significant foray into the enterprise. 

Apple’s iWork applications (including Pages, Numbers and Keynote) now enable real-time collaboration, a game-changing move that makes Apple products far more relevant for the digital workforce and pits it squarely against Google G Suite. 

But will Apple’s bid to become an enterprise collaboration provider prove successful?

What It Will Take for Apple to Compete in Collaboration

Enterprise collaboration doesn't just mean sharing documents. 

The projects and files that professionals collaborate on is the digital core of their business, and services like Google Drive become the foundation for all of a company’s daily activities. 

From that perspective, choosing a collaboration solution is a major business decision. If Apple wants to become a platform of choice for enterprise audiences, it will need to prove its ability to support corporate needs.

Enterprises run on ecosystems, which means integrations are key to the success of any company making business software. For a networked enterprise, collaboration means being able to work with customers, partners and other external organizations, as well as internal systems. 

A large part of Google’s success thus far is because of its universal accessibility. If Apple wants to truly compete, it will need to support the software that business people already rely on and give them the flexibility to interact with other solutions and aspects of the collaboration ecosystem.

In Enterprise Collaboration, Value Comes From Accessibility

One of the most important assets of any collaborative platform is its universal accessibility: its ability to facilitate work between co-workers, customers and partners. This is especially important for businesses that regularly interact with their customers. 

When collaborating externally, enterprises need to make the customer experience as seamless as possible, which often means working with customers on their terms. Forrester predicts that within the next few years customer-activated communication and collaboration (CACC) (paywall) will replace traditional unified communications and traditional internal collaboration strategies as the “glue” for customer experience. 

Allowing customers to dictate their technology of choice helps companies address their needs as painlessly as possible. If iWork fails to integrate with other solutions, companies who rely on it will risk alienating their customer base — a risk not many will be willing to take.

Other collaboration platforms have already grasped this. Integrations make shifting between Google G Suite, Box, Dropbox and Huddle frictionless for customers. 

These ostensibly competitive solutions support one another because doing so enables users to interact with their customers more easily — which drives success of the entire ecosystem.

Apple hasn’t always played nicely with its competitors. 

Its products’ incompatibility with various popular software and services (such as Adobe Flash) have been notoriously frustrating for consumers, though never particularly devastating for the brand. 

Learning Opportunities

Enterprise audiences, however, won’t afford the company the same flexibility. Big businesses aren’t willing to ostracize customers or partners — nor will they be willing to abandon their existing IT solutions, which many companies have invested in heavily and rely on for business processes.

The Evolving Function of Collaboration Technology

IDC anticipates that the enterprise collaboration market will grow to $6.2 billion by 2019. The reason for the uptick is largely due to the shifting role of collaboration software, which has evolved to become a foundation for business operations. 

Companies have started building processes around their collaboration solution, and many have invested significant resources into building these programs. 

A recent Accenture study found that companies that build digital collaboration into their business processes save millions of dollars a year. A subsequent McKinsey survey found that companies using this networked approach improve customer and partner benefits by 600 percent. The number of enterprises taking this approach is climbing steadily every year. 

Given the amount of dependency companies have on their existing collaboration platforms, iWork will find the most success by supplementing these platforms, becoming a welcome addition to the enterprise ecosystem.

The Collaboration Industry Must ... Collaborate

Faced with the challenge of maintaining its staggering growth, Apple has already made the enterprise a key area for market expansion. 

In recent years, Apple has announced new partnerships with Cisco and IBM to make the proliferation of its devices grow among enterprise customers. These partnerships appear to lay the foundation for an Apple strategy that embraces the open ecosystem of enterprise collaboration.

The company has also demonstrated its willingness to support outside services by increasing compatibility with other business software.

In an interview last year, Apple CEO Tim Cook said, “We've turned up the volume on collaboration ... because it's so clear that in order for us to be incredibly successful we have to be the best collaborators in the world. The magic of Apple, from a product point of view, happens at this intersection of hardware, software and services. “ 

If Apple advances that drive to collaborate externally as well as internally, there might just be a place for the consumer giant in the enterprise after all.

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