It wasn’t all that long ago that the IT world divided the world into two groups of people – those who used their computers for work and those that owned Macs. A lot has changed over the last five years or so, with Macs making the move out of art departments and schools into the mainstream.
While the Mac has long enjoyed a reputation for great usability it has had to build a new reputation in the office. Part of the challenge for IT managers has been ensuring that Mac users can work seamlessly with their PC-using colleagues and that they can collaborate with the entire business.
So what does that take? It means looking for applications that allow Mac users to work effectively in the business and with clients. It means ensuring that all the devices on the network are correctly configured and kept up to date. And it means ensuring that staff is well educated in how to get the most from the applications and hardware.
Applications that collaborate
At the top of the list for almost every business is Microsoft Office. It is the de facto standard when it comes to office productivity. However, the real decision is which version of Microsoft Office is the right fit.
Office 365 is Microsoft’s cloud offering in this space. It’s very flexible. The two key components – the familiar Office applications and OneDrive cloud storage service – work together. You can open a document on your Mac using the desktop version of Word, make some edits, save them and then open the document using an iOS version, picking up exactly where you left off.
Office also has a slew of collaboration tools so colleagues can edit documents together from remote locations.
One of the neat things about iCloud is that Apple allows other software developers to leverage the ecosystem. If you look at the App Store, you’ll find lots of apps that work with iCloud.
One of our favourites is Pixelmator. It’s a $30 app that can do much of what Adobe’s Photoshop can do. There are dozens of other apps as well.
Adobe is slowly moving its customers away from their traditional market of boxed software to their Creative Cloud service that allows you to pay a monthly subscription for access to their applications rather than stumping up hundreds of dollars up front.
For a network with dozens or hundreds of machines, it’s important that IT administrators have the right tools in place to manage applications, settings and system updates.
A good place to start is OS X Server. You won’t need a super-powerful Mac to run this – a decent Mac mini will suffice. But it will allow IT administrators to centrally collect and distribute system and application updates from the App Store so that the company’s internet connection is saturated when everyone tries to download the latest update from Apple’s servers. The server can download it so client machines can install it across the local network.
Given that many businesses will be running mixed networks with both Mac and Windows systems, being able to integrate both platforms administratively is helpful. Centrify’s User Suite for the Mac provides Active Directory integration, application management and works with Microsoft’s Group policies so Macs can be configured centrally.
One of the apps many administrators turn to is Casper Suite. Since its release back in 2003, it has been developed, augmented and refined into one of the best tools for deploying new Macs on your network. The name Casper is a play on Ghost – a popular tool for imaging PCs. Casper is, of course, the friendly ghost!
MacUpdate Desktop fills the gaps left by Apple’s App Store. While the App Store is an easy place to find apps and install them, MacUpdate Desktop works with apps that are available from other sources. MacUpdate Desktop can scan a machine and, from its database of over 40,000 apps identify which need an update.
Tradespeople undergo lots of training and education in order to be masters in their chosen trade. Why do we expect our staff – both in the backrooms of IT and at the coalface of the business – do be any different?
It’s important to allocate resources to educating staff whenever new tools are introduced. Our advice is to not see training as a one-off exercise when a new tool is introduced but to look at as an ongoing program. Hermann Ebbinghaus, a 19th century psychologist knew this when he measured the effect of repetition at specific time intervals on learning and memory.
When designing training programs for staff, it’s well worth reviewing a summary of his work so you can ensure that your investment in hardware and software sees the best possible return.