One of the best pieces of advice to young companies ever offered came from the late Jim Barksdale, who was chief executive at browser company Netscape Communications twenty years ago.
Asked what a company should do to build a big business, Barksdale told a group of analysts and reporters at a meeting in New York one day that a company should “find a parade and get in front of it.” What he meant was that being at the forefront of a big, expanding market is sometimes all you need to make your sales shoot through the roof.
Dean Hager, head of Jamf, the eighteen-year-old, Minneapolis-based software firm that came public last July, thinks his company has found a very vibrant parade to get in front of. It’s the Apple device parade.
“Apple is going to make some serious inroads with this machine,” said Hager during a Zoom meeting with ZDNet, holding up his new M1-based MacBook computer, the machine that Apple introduced in November that is the first of its kind to use Apple’s custom-built silicon instead of Intel’s x86 chip. It’s lightning-fast, he confirms, runs for eighteen hours on a charge, and doesn’t need a fan.
“It’s the greatest computer I’ve ever used, it’s really good,” said Hager.
This is not mere fanboy gushing. Hager’s business is built on the premise that more and more millennials in business are going to be demanding they get a Mac with their new job. To him, the M1 Mac sweetens the appeal.
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“Every year, Mac and iPad have been making inroads into the workplace, taking over more and more Windows seats,” observed Hager.
“With the new demographics, if you want to hire people, you better be supporting Macs,” he contends. Studies Jamf has commissioned say that 70% of college graduates expect to use a Mac when they get into the workforce.
All those millennials are his chance to sell the tools that make remote management of Macs feel more Apple-like, in his view.
Jamf is a replacement for the kinds of services that ship natively with Windows and Microsoft’s Active Directory that were never built by Apple. That includes tools used by a system admin to deploy fleets of machines, so-called mobile device management. Its role is to maintain a user profile in a directory, to sign the user onto corporate resources wherever they may be, but also to provide device security, to update apps remotely, and a variety of other administration tasks.
And it’s designed to do all that increasingly with a so-called zero-touch approach as if the employee doesn’t even know the administration is happening.
“The trick is to do it in a way that your individual Apple experience is still outstanding, and that doesn’t usually happen,” said Hager. “As soon as IT gets their fingers on it, they wreck everybody’s individual experience.”
To configure a Mac for, say, a printer on the network, is usually a nightmare for users, said Hager. With the Jamf app on the computer, called Jamf Self Service, the Mac will send a print job to the network without having actually set up a printer.
“We preserve the same Apple simplicity to do all kinds of functions, but we do it at a mass scale,” in his words.
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The Jamf Pro admin suite, running either on a local IT machine or through Jamf’s own cloud offering, Jamf Cloud, is used to enroll users and connect them with identity providers such as Okta, Microsoft Azure Active Directory, Google G Suite, and others.
If the company is giving a person a computer, an app will be preloaded that ties into Apple’s Automated Device Enrollment. The Jamf software, upon first boot, goes through the necessary steps to connect to ADE and sign in and authenticate the user.
If a person is using their own machine bought directly, as is increasingly the case with the bring-your-own-device phenomenon, once the machine boots into the desktop for the first time, the individual enters a URL in the Safari browser and the enrollment happens from there.
His purchase of his new M1 Mac from the Apple store is Hager’s showcase example of how it all works.
“The real compelling story is, here you have a brand-new Apple processor, I did not need to check with anybody whether we would support this machine. I ordered it directly, shipped it to my house, powered it on, hit the link, and it loaded automatically.”
Hager got his machine in the evening and had all his data from his old Mac in short order, and was on his Zoom meeting the next day. “And IT never needed to be involved.”
Remote work in a COVID-19 environment has added to the software’s appeal, he says. Fleets of such Macs can be sent shrink-wrapped from a reseller to the employee at home with the software installed. “Mid-way through the power-up, we capture their identity, IT never needed to touch it,” he said. “By the time it powered on for that individual, it is work-ready.”
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If more and more people are spending some or all of their time at home, putting money into employee productivity may involve giving people the computer they want. “If you’re not going to put money into facilities, all of a sudden, the technology experience is the employee experience,” said Hager.
Hager likes to mention that SpaceX used the software to deploy iPads over the summer on its mission to the International Space Station. “If you think about managing mobile, that’s a pretty good test case, controlling the iPads in the International Space Station from Earth; if we can do that, we can help IT help their employees at home.”
So, just what kind of person gets excited about running in front of this kind of parade, building this kind of company?
Remember that 2000 movie, Space Cowboys, where Clint Eastwood and Tommy Lee Jones are aging astronauts who come back to help NASA out of a jam? Right, this is a job for seasoned systems programmers.
Hager, 53, got his start at IBM in 1989 writing printer spooling job routines for the operating system of the AS400 mid-range system. He spent a decade at IBM, doing things such as managing the company’s integration of Lotus Notes and Domino. He went on to work at Lawson Software and then ran Kroll Ontrack, a firm that does specialized kinds of software such as secure disk erasure. Hager’s been around many parts of the software and systems world, in other words.
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Despite his IBM days programming mid-range systems, Hager’s close-cropped hair and wire-rim spectacles and black tee shirt lend him a curious resemblance to late Apple CEO Steve Jobs. Even some of his manner is reminiscent. Like Jobs, he frequently greets questions with an energetic, enthusiastic response, turning a skeptical question into a definitive evocation of Jamf’s business.
It is not the famous reality distortion field of Steve Jobs, but rather a genuine delight in that advancing parade of Apple devices.
“As time goes on, the moat becomes deeper and wider” for Jamf as Apple tries to push deeper into enterprise, he said.
“Ask any company what the M1 chip did for them, they’ll say they couldn’t deploy it because their vendor wasn’t ready,” said Hager. “No Jamf customer ever gets, Hey, don’t upgrade because we’re not ready for it; if Apple comes out with it, you roll with it because you’re ready.”
Asked what kind of business this will be over time, Hager suggested that management and security functions for Apple products will become a bigger and bigger market. That makes Jamf’s product a kind of enterprise operating system, in his view.
Jamf’s self-serve app is being increasingly private-labeled by other companies that want to deploy Macs or sell services on Macs. That includes his old employer, IBM. “They’ve got 150,000 Macs there, and they’ve got this great IBM App Store, and that’s the Jamf application private-labeled as IBM.” Apple is a customer, too, along with 24 of the top 25 brands in the world, he likes to point out.
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“We’re a good customer of theirs, but they’re also a good customer of ours: the Apple devices within Apple are deployed with Jamf, and they’re also a reseller of ours,” said Hager. “If you go to the Apple Store and say you want to buy fifteen iPads and fifteen seats of Jamf, they’ll sell it to you right there.” Apple also sells seat licenses to Jamf to its education customers.
But what about an Apple server? Wall Street has been asking whether the M1 chip will allow Apple to re-enter the server business and take share from Intel-based, Windows-based servers. Hager gets asked the question all the time. He declined to speculate on Apple’s plans. He noted Amazon’s deployment of M1 Mac services in AWS. Any server business these days will be a cloud-based business, he pointed out, so maybe there’s something there.
Would Jobs have approved of all this? Hager thinks so.
“Steve said he liked the consumer market because we build the product, and the consumers like it, so they select it,” he recalled. In enterprise, that’s not usually the case. IT classically forces people to use certain things.
Jamf, he said, doesn’t coerce people to buy Apple’s wares. “We say, let the individuals choose, you’ll end up with happier customers and a more-efficient IT.”
“The way that we win is letting people choose for themselves, and that, I think, Steve would have approved of.”