Earlier this week, IBM and Apple announced a partnership to offer standard enterprise mobility solutions on iOS hardware. While neither party has revealed the details of the business arrangement, this announcement appears to represent a significant step forward in mobile strategy and go-to-market aggressiveness for both companies.
For Apple, its marketing department is quick to point out that individual consumer preferences have pushed iPhones and iPads into the enterprise in large numbers. But those of us that speak to business decision makers on a regular basis know that many organizations continue to be wary of operationally-focused business applications on Apple. Concerns range from security to manage-ability to device durability. With the IBM partnership and supported by the enterprise-grade sensibilities of IBM’s software infrastructure and services, Apple’s proliferation in the enterprise should increase more rapidly, and we should see increased deployment of line-of-business apps on iOS devices. All of this just means good things for Apple – more companies buying more Apple products in larger numbers.
For IBM, the benefits are numerous. Clearly, it’s an opportunity to make a big marketing splash – both with the announcement and with the ongoing ability to market and sell Apple products. IBM offers numerous high-value products for big business. But let’s face it, IBM does not sell many “cool” products. Adding Apple devices to the portfolio allows IBM to complement its pragmatic software and services portfolios with attractive and high-quality products that many individuals within their customers want anyway - and now through a trusted enterprise-friendly partner. That’s just good business.
Another benefit for IBM is the standardization of hardware options for the solutions that will be included as part of this initiative (those are unidentified at this time). By minimizing the complexity of the hardware option, IBM is reducing the costs associated with development and especially testing. This may be a pragmatic response from IBM, amidst a market backdrop that clearly values cross-platform mobility and alignment with corporate BYOD policies. A cross-platform application inherently offers more access and investment protection compared to platform-specific applications. Still, cross-platform is complex and therefore expensive. One wonders if IBM has experienced some of the potential pains associated with cross-platform mobility in real production scenarios, and they may be looking to associate specific initiatives with specific platforms in the spirit of focus and complexity avoidance. Going forward, as IBM continues to evolve and grow its “MobileFirst” portfolio, look for the company to continue to invest in technologies that advance the state of the art in IBM’s ability to develop, deliver, deploy, and support cross-platform applications.
Many have remarked about the “exclusive” nature of the IBM-Apple partnership. This particular initiative looks to have an exclusive nature to it, but as an organization IBM will almost certainly continue to implement solutions that support other mobile platforms, specifically Android and Windows. The market for those products is too large for IBM to ignore them. By defining this particular strategic initiative as one based on Apple products, IBM is establishing themselves as the technology solution provider with a specific focus on Apple alignment. Although Apple has a storied history as a successful organization, big players in the technology solutions market were unlikely to compete over the attention from the Apple aficionados, largely the design/education/consumer niche. We live in a different world now. Apple products are mainstream and businesses want to figure out how to incorporate Apple hardware into productive applications. It was a matter of time before someone of IBM’s pedigree delivered this shot across the bow to the market.
One thing is certain. In conference rooms of IBM’s competitors across the globe, executives are planning a response.
The enterprise mobility arms race may have just begun.
VP Products, @hand