At the Jamf Nation User Conference (JNUC) in 2015, Fletcher Previn, then IBM’s VP of Workplace as a Service, described the company’s new Mac@IBM program, an employee-choice program that gave IBMers the option to use a Mac or a Windows machine. This was a huge change for Big Blue, given the company’s history with the IBM PC, but Previn and others at the company believed Macs could help improve IBM’s output, without increasing support costs or total cost of ownership. The support requirements turned out to be shockingly lower, with just 24 help desk employees supporting 130,000 Macs and iOS devices, or 1 support tech for about 5400 Apple users, compared to 1 support tech for every 242 PC users. In large part, that was because only 5% of the Mac users called the help desk for assistance, compared to 40% of the PC users.
At the time of that announcement, IBM was deploying 1900 Macs per week, and a year later, the company had over 90,000 Macs in the field. Returning to JNUC in 2016, Previn announced that the company was saving between $273 and $543 per Mac compared to PCs over a 4-year lifespan. By 2018, Previn had been promoted to Chief Information Officer, and IBM was up to a whopping 277,000 Apple devices, all supported by only 78 staff members.
(These announcements take place at JNUC because IBM relies on Jamf Pro and Apple’s Device Enrollment Program for zero-touch deployment—as soon as an employee unboxes a new Mac, turns it on, and logs in, it configures itself with the necessary settings and software for that person.)
IBM Announces Mac Productivity Research
During the keynote at the 2019 JNUC, Previn was back on stage to share research suggesting that Macs enable IBM employees to be more productive and also improve employee satisfaction and retention. IBM now has 290,000 Apple devices deployed throughout the company.
Most notably, IBM’s research found that, compared with Windows users, 22% more Mac users exceeded expectations in performance reviews. Plus, the high-value sales deals closed by Mac users were 16% larger than those closed by Windows users.
The study also found greater employee satisfaction and retention. Mac users have significantly a higher Net Promoter Score—47.5 for Mac users compared to 15 for Windows users—and they are 17% less likely to leave the company than Windows users.
When it comes to support, unsurprisingly, Macs continue to require much less. IBM employs only 7 support engineers per 200,000 Macs, compared to 20 support engineers per 200,000 Windows devices.
Is It the Mac or the Mac User?
It’s fabulous to see IBM quantifying the kind of productivity gains that we Mac users have known all along, and I certainly hope this research helps those who struggle to recommend Macs at work.
But we need to be careful with what conclusions we draw from IBM’s research. Although I have no issue with the company’s numbers—there’s no reason to doubt that their Mac users did better on performance reviews and landed larger sales deals—we shouldn’t fall into the trap of suggesting that all this is true due to Apple’s hardware and software ecosystem.
Fletcher Previn was clear about how correlation should not be confused with causation, saying, “You have to be careful about cause and effect. I don’t know if giving an employee a Mac makes them a better employee, or whether better employees want to choose Macs.” And in a statement that sums up the difference between business and scientific research, he smiled and concluded, “And ultimately, I don’t care.”
That’s important, because for a study to conclude that using Macs made employees more productive than if they used PCs, the researchers would have had to assign computers randomly and then evaluate both groups over time. By definition, however, IBM’s employee-choice program ensures that both cohorts are self-selected. There could thus easily be confounding variables that weigh more heavily in the findings.
For instance, IBM found that Mac users were 17% less likely to leave the company than Windows users. Might that also be related to age or financial stability? Older users might be less likely to leave than younger users, and those who earn less might be more likely to seek greener pastures elsewhere. Without separating those confounding variables from the choice of platform, there’s no way to know.
It may even be that the key difference between Mac users and Windows users is not the computer that they use, but the mere fact that they chose one computer over another. What past history, personality traits, or beliefs about career advancement might play into that choice? Previn acknowledged this, saying, “If you’re the kind of salesperson who’s so mindful of looking progressive that you go out and choose Mac, are you also on top of a bunch of other things?”
And, of course, although IBM’s research boasts an impressively large sample size, the results are also specific to IBM. It’s entirely possible that IBM has, for whatever reason, ended up with a corporate environment where its internal tools somehow work faster or better on Macs, giving those users a leg up.
In the end, although it’s not as good a headline and gets into some very fuzzy analytical territory, what IBM has really shown here is that the kind of people who choose Macs at IBM tend to do better on performance reviews, close larger sales deals, and stay with the company longer. There’s no direct evidence that it’s the Mac that makes the difference—IBM was evaluating the people, and in ways that aren’t obviously connected to using any particular kind of computer.
But if IBM wants more of those people—and their associated lower support costs and total cost of hardware ownership—it would seem logical that the company should be making hiring decisions based in part on which platform a particular candidate prefers. Given two equal candidates, if one wants a Mac and the other wants a PC, IBM’s data would suggest that the company should hire the Mac user. When I asked Previn if IBM would start doing this, he tactfully avoided that conclusion, noting merely that employees who chose Macs exhibit some good key performance indicators.
Previn summed up IBM’s view of the research by saying, “Hopefully, you’re sort of making a Venn diagram where you say, ‘There’s a lot of corroboration here for it to all be independently fluke.’ … You have to draw your own conclusions here about cause and effect. This is what the data is telling us.”
Our non-scientific takeaway from all this? People who choose Macs make great employees, at least if they’re given Macs to use. But we Mac users already knew that, right?