Today, IBM published the results of an internal experiment that undoubtedly sent Apple’s sales team leaping for joy. Since launching its Mac@IBM program, which allowed users a choice in which computer platform they preferred, the company has tracked the results. Said results have been quite favorable for the Mac-using IBM staffers, in multiple metrics.
First, keep in mind that these results are being revealed at the JAMF Nation User Conference. JAMF is a software platform for administrating Apple devices. The company isn’t just announcing this out of the blue; it’s making a statement of support from the stage of a major software partner. That doesn’t mean these statements are wrong, but it’s an important context for evaluating their accuracy.
According to IBM, one staff member can support 5,400 Mac users, while the company needed one staff member per 242 PC users. Only 5 percent of Mac users called the help desk for assistance, compared with 40 percent of PC users. This Mac-IBM love affair has been ongoing for a few years, and the same IBM PR points out that in 2016, IBM CIO Fletcher Previn declared that IBM saves anywhere from $273 to $543 when its end users choose Mac over PC.
This year, the company gave even stronger evidence in favor of Macs over PCs. Supposedly 22 percent more macOS users exceed expectations in performance reviews compared with Windows users, while high-value sales deals tend to be 16 percent larger for macOS users. Mac users also have a higher “net promoter score” of 47.5 versus 15 and are 17 percent less likely to leave IBM. Mac users are also happier with third-party software availability at IBM, according to IBM’s own press release. In addition, Mac users are more likely to report that migration is simpler compared with Windows 7 -> Windows 10. Windows users are nearly 5x more likely to need on-site help support.
All of this adds up to a towering mountain of praise for macOS and a mountain of scorn for Windows. But given that IBM hasn’t released the full data set from which it made these calculations or detailed the manner in which it surveyed its employees, I feel obligated to point out that some of the effects being claimed here are astonishingly large, with no clear indication of what might be producing them.
IBM may have already addressed the issues I’m going to raise, but it doesn’t say that it’s done so — and these issues are important.
To properly measure the impact of using macOS versus Windows, we need to know more about the specific users who have chosen Macs. What branches of the company do they work in? Are they in the upper echelons of employment or are they entry-level workers? Which groups of people, specifically, have chosen to take advantage of IBM’s Macintosh offer?
Because — if you think about it — selection bias could explain every single one of IBM’s claims. We can assume that some of the people who chose to use a Mac at IBM did so because they were already familiar with Apple’s ecosystem and preferred the product family. Because Apple has a minority market share, many Apple users are also fluent in Windows. Apple products tend to cost more than Windows systems, so people who choose these platforms may have more disposable cash in the first place and work in higher echelons of the company.
I haven’t been able to find any details on the Mac@IBM program, but it’s possible that the salespeople and employees who chose to convert were also more likely to be the higher-performing employees in the first place. We know IBM has had the Mac@IBM program since 2015, but it’s not clear if the program is a simple “any employee can use a Mac if they want,” or if it’s only offered to some employees. Even if low-level office staff have the same chance to step up to a Mac as a high-level engineer, individuals in those positions may simply be less likely to do so. The reason high-value sales deals may correlate to macOS usage is that IBM’s best salespeople may be more likely to use a Mac. It may be that the Mac@IBM program was first offered in high-value sales teams, or that those teams took advantage of it first. There are a lot of effects to tease apart here.
I’m not saying IBM’s data is wrong — only that we haven’t been given enough information to know if some attribute of macOS explains these differences, or if the fact that employees are less likely to leave and more likely to exceed expectations reflects other personality characteristics of the employees in question.
But there is a way for IBM to make a stronger version of this argument. It needs to show long-term longitudinal data indicating that the employees who switched from Windows to macOS saw their sales figures jump, their retention rates rise, and the number of helpdesk calls falls. It would still be important, however, to separate out the group of Mac users who were already fully versed in macOS when they adopted it at IBM from the group of Windows users who were new to macOS and adopting it for the first time. After all, increased performance in the Mac-friendly group may reflect the fact that they are using the OS they previously preferred to use. It would also be helpful to see the strength of the improvement across multiple separate areas of IBM’s business.
The gold standard for a “macOS is intrinsically better than Windows” argument is a group of Windows users who saw their overall performance increase, help desk calls drop, and other improvements in other employment-related metrics after switching to macOS for the first time, for reasons that cannot be explained by any other change in their job responsibilities. The difference in help desk calls and the number of employees per IT staff member may be reflected in the relative level of computer knowledge required to do the work. If secretaries need more computer help than high-level engineers, and the high-level engineering staff is more heavily represented in the Mac user pool, this would explain the gap in support staff requirements. In this case, the gap would have nothing to do with the relative merits of macOS versus Windows.
Feature image by Mashable.
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