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IBM's MobileFirst provides enterprise mobility for big spenders

IBM's MobileFirst application and infrastructure for enterprise mobility may appeal to existing customers if they are willing to pay a premium.

Enabling enterprise mobility is about more than just supporting devices. Ultimately, it's about re-architecting business processes in a mobile-friendly manner.

IBM's new MobileFirst application aims to help companies do just that -- if they are willing to pay IBM's premium price.

MobileFirst pulls together 10 mobile companies IBM has acquired over the last four years, along with other existing products to help IT departments design and build customer-facing applications, deploy internal applications via the IBM SmartCloud and manage mobile devices.

"What IBM is doing is taking their strengths in certain markets around analytics, systems management, security, applications and infrastructure, and cobbling [them] together into a single brand," said Jack Gold, founder of J. Gold Associates, a consulting firm based in Northborough, Mass.

Though the products are part of a single brand, pricing remains separate -- at least for now. The enterprise license for Worklight, for example, costs $36,700 per seat per year. The company said more affordable versions, available as a suite and deployed through SmartCloud, are on the roadmap, but there is no timeframe for when they will be available.

Existing customers who can afford to hire IBM Professional Services for consulting and to license a multitude of expensive hardware and software products may give MobileFirst a look. However, IBM will have to downscale MobileFirst so it's attractive for smaller deployments.

The hitch is to make it affordable without also forcing companies to use the IBM SmartCloud, because some are reticent to adopt a cloud model, Gold said.

"It's the difference between ordering a bunch of inexpensive tapas instead of a five-course pre-fixe meal," he said. "The only way this succeeds outside of IBM's core customer-base is if they make it simple, relatively inexpensive, and so that you don't have to hire IBM Professional Services to figure it all out."

App development supported by IBM MobileFirst

MobileFirst is designed to help organizations migrate legacy infrastructure investments by building an application programming interface layer to connect mobile apps to databases.

MobileFirst will also support app development for all four major smartphone platforms and a new version of AppScan will expand its vulnerability testing to include iOS apps.

Among the initial offerings include its Worklight mobile application deployment software, which is getting new single sign-on capabilities, a beta of Rational Test Workbench for performance testing, updates to Endpoint Manager and better analytics tools.

IBM sees enterprise mobility as a rapidly adjustable environment for application development and deployment, testing, infrastructure integration and data security in a highly scalable manner.

"It's fundamentally a big technology shift for legacy enterprises that goes beyond what device they provide employees or whether they should use hybrid apps or native apps," said Kevin Custis, IBM's global leader for social business and mobility services. "It's about how mobile drives better business process."

IBM SmartCloud, MobileFirst in action

The city of Eindhoven in the Netherlands was selected as the testing ground for the European Union's efforts to reduce traffic deaths and road congestion through the use of IBM's mobile technology.

During a 12-month span, the city collected data on weather conditions, traffic patterns, driving habits and more. The information was fed through an analytics application; that data was crunched in SmartCloud and pushed to a traffic operations center to deploy emergency response teams in the field to resolve issues, said Ab Oosting, project manager for the city of Eindhoven.

"We were able to identify, analyze and resolve road network issues to manage traffic flows away from accidents and dangerous traffic situations," Oosting said. "We were sending personalized, real-time information to taxi and truck drivers onto their mobile devices to reroute them from problem areas."

Oosting and his colleagues believe the program was a success in reducing significant traffic congestion and accidents -- but do not yet have specific figures.

Going forward, the city wants to implement a program using MobileFirst that can push traffic and weather alerts to drivers' mobile devices as well as deploy emergency response employees in the field via mobile devices.

"It's a very powerful collaboration between different components and we're now figuring out how to move from the pilot stage," Oosting said, with the major drawback being the budgetary costs imposed on his department by government funding.

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Is MobileFirst a viable option?