What to make of the Apple-IBM partnership

  • 18-Jul-2014

Since the days of this 1984 commercial when Apple supposedly attacked IBM, the two firms have come a long way.

As you know, they announced a new partnership around four core areas. Quoting from their PR statement:

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

What They Get Out of It

Apple wants to get a huge push for its enterprise ambitions riding on IBM's relationships. Sure, Apple's devices (iPad and iPhone) are popular within enterprises, but Apple has never really been an enterprise-focused company. Focusing on enterprises requires not just a new mindset (e.g., how do you deal with enterprise relationships) but also a host of new capabilities around enterprise concerns such as administration and security. IBM offers these.

IBM, on the other hand could win additional services business by way of managing AppleCare administration and related support opportunities. IBM also has many products in its "MobileFirst" offering, including those for app development, application and device management, testing and so forth. This partnership could be helpful in selling more of those as well.

But this is all really vendorspeak. 

What About You the Customer?

Let's look at this from your perspective.  What do you really get here?  Perhaps not so much.

If you are hugely invested in both IBM and Apple, and have standardized on Apple's devices  within your organization, this partnership could offer better integration and management capabilities. Fine.

But businesspeople also care about capabilities that will make them more effective at work, and here you should remain skeptical about the value of "a new class of more than 100 industry-specific enterprise solutions."  Enterprise apps are not as commoditized as consumer apps. Enterprise apps have vastly different requirements in terms of integration with varied back-end systems, security issues, administration, and so forth. So even if you find a suitable app, you will probably have to customize it for your specific requirements.

Moreover, when an increasing number of organizations are encouraging employees to bring their own devices (BYOD) to work, fewer will want to restrict their employees to Apple devices. You don't want to ignore the large amount of Android devices out there -- especially for firms outside North America. The lesson of Blackberry's demise is that today, enterprise applications will not typically drive employee device adoption.

When it comes to tablets, Apple's iPads may still have an edge within the enterprises but that foothold may become tenuous, again particularly if you look at it in a global context.

If IBM were truly customer focused, it would come up with parallel offerings for Android and others. 

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