IBM and Apple Announce Enterprise-Focused Partnership

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc. July 16, 2014

IBM and Apple announced an exclusive partnership that the pair said teams their market-leading strengths to transform enterprise mobility through a new class of business apps—bringing IBM’s big data and analytics capabilities to Apple’s iPhone and iPad. According to the companies, the partnership aims to redefine the way work will get done, address key industry mobility challenges and spark true mobile-led business change through four core capabilities:

  • A new class of more than 100 industry-specific enterprise solutions, including native apps developed exclusively for iPhones and iPads;
  • Unique IBM cloud services optimized for the iOS, including device management, security, analytics and mobile integration;
  • New AppleCare service and support tailored to the needs of the enterprise;  and
  • New packaged offerings from IBM for device activation, supply and management.

The new IBM MobileFirst for iOS solutions will draw on the distinct strengths of each company: IBM’s big data and analytics capabilities, along with 100,000+ IBM industry and domain consultants and software developers, fused with Apple’s deep consumer experience, hardware and software integration and developer platform. The combination will focus on creating apps that can transform specific aspects of how businesses and employees use the iPhone and iPad, allowing companies to achieve new levels of efficiency, effectiveness and customer satisfaction—faster and easier than ever before.

As part of the agreement, IBM will also sell iPhones and iPads with the industry-specific solutions to business clients worldwide. AppleCare for Enterprise will provide IT departments and end users with 24/7 assistance from Apple’s customer support group, with on-site service delivered by IBM.

The Pitch

The IBM/Apple partnership will develop and deliver apps and services that make the iPhone and iPad “enterprise-ready.”

Final Analysis

The homily “What goes around, comes around,” is never truer than when it is applied to IT. Unique new solutions often carry ancient baggage. Industry-shaking trends are recycled with astonishing regularity. Friendly collaborators are riven by jealousy and competitive striving, break apart and then rejoin with scarcely a backward glance. Related to this is the fact that the tech industry evolves so quickly that what amounts to a single generation in human terms can result in wholesale shifts of product, strategy and personnel.

That’s certainly apparent when it comes to IBM and Apple. In the 1980s, the pair were fierce rivals contending for dominance of the burgeoning market for personal computers. Then in 1994, they became deeply ensconced partners, with IBM and Motorola providing the microprocessors that drove Apple’s newly redesigned Macintosh line. That collaboration lasted for over a decade until 2006 when Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced that the company was abandoning PowerPC for Intel CPUs.

That move wasn’t especially happy for IBM but it also wasn’t fazed much. Nor was Apple. Instead the two companies pursued their own separate paths; Apple exchanging its also-ran position in desktop and laptop computers to achieve stunning “king of the world” status first in MP3 players, then smart phones and tablets; meanwhile IBM became the leading vendor of foundational data center systems, software and services for large enterprises.

Now those widely divergent paths have rejoined for a pair of fairly simple reasons: 1) IBM firmly understands the growing, critical importance of mobile endpoint devices, but the company’s backend-focused strategy lacked a critical conduit into end users, and 2) While iPhones and iPads are wildly popular among consumers, including those involved in workplace BYOD programs, Apple has failed to craft a workable, convincing strategy for enterprise customers and markets.

With that context, how does the new partnership between IBM and Apple look? Pretty impressive, overall. The deal is structured to leverage the established strengths of both in order to shore up their individual weaknesses. In short, Apple brings its massive mobile market position and loyal user base to the party while IBM offers well-established pathways into large businesses, along with a growing and impressive range of cloud, big data and analytics services and solutions.

There’s obviously no guarantee that the partnership can achieve its ambitious goals, but the companies are both formidable players with a long history of delivering on promises. Moreover, both also have key assets that should complement the collaboration. The AppleCare service is highly regarded by individual iPhone and iPad customers, and Apple has the human and financial capital needed to scale it for the particular needs of large organizations.

Face it: The last thing IT wants to do when the boss’s iPhone craps out is to send a team member down to the Genius Bar.

On IBM’s side, the company’s deep professional relationships with global enterprises of every kind is the obvious attraction here. But it’s impossible to overstate the value of IBM’s strong footing among enterprise software vendors and developers in regards to the 100 “industry-specific” iPhone/iPad solutions and apps mentioned in the press release. That smells as if it could be related to IBM’s “patterns” strategy, which has already helped spark the development of hundreds of applications and tools for industry-specific scenarios and business processes.

So if IBM and Apple stand to be winners in the deal, who are prospective losers? Those can be divided into what might be termed handset and platform players.

On the handset side, the deal portends obvious difficulties for Android phone manufacturers RIM (Blackberry) and Microsoft, though for different reasons. Android’s market share leadership and the depth of its developer community should help it weather the storm. Some say the deal will be fatal to RIM but we believe the company’s position will remain relatively unchanged unless IBM can help fix Apple’s clear and obvious security issues. To us, Microsoft is in the most dangerous position since the company is clearly focusing its nascent mobile efforts on the same organizations and users as IBM and Apple.

On the platform side, most of IBM’s system vendor competitors have been attempting to craft similar strategies for mobile business solutions, and all stand to lose if the IBM/Apple collaboration takes wing. That doesn’t mean that they don’t have alternatives in both Android and Windows Mobile, but neither of those platforms and none of their available handsets have the cachet of the iPhone and iPad.

What it may all come down to is precisely what IBM and Apple mean by “exclusive partnership.” As we have seen before in the IT industry (and even with these two same companies), exclusivity works until it doesn’t anymore, and partnerships only last as long as the involved parties are willing. In this case, we expect that will be determined by both companies delivering what they promise and by attaining planned results.

Those issues aside, this new partnership is impressive in its scope and ambitions, and appears well-positioned to leverage the relative strengths of IBM and Apple while acknowledging the need to collaborate in order to achieve common goals. Both companies have the experience, technological assets and human capital to make this work. If they can continue to respect one another and remember why they chose to work together, we believe they will succeed to their own and their partners’ and customers’ benefit.

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