News Stay informed about the latest enterprise technology news and product updates.

IBM-Apple deal to yield iOS business apps, cloud services

A sprawling partnership between Apple and IBM for iOS enterprise mobile applications is met with cautious optimism, and skepticism, by IT insiders.

While most analysts are quick to hail the newly formed IBM-Apple alliance as a win-win for each party, some IT pros expressed skepticism about how much of a win it is for them until they see some of the applications and services promised by each company. 

As part of a far-reaching enterprise mobility partnership, the two companies plan to deliver over 100 industry-specific enterprise applications starting this fall, along with IBM cloud services tooled to take advantage of Apple’s iOS. The companies will primarily target the security, mobile device management and data analytics markets. IBM will also resell iPhones and iPads through its direct sales force and partner network. 

If the upcoming applications aren’t compelling enough for corporate enterprises to buy, then the deal simply becomes a large-scale reselling agreement. Apple may sell more iOS devices, but that isn’t important to IT, said Michael Oh, president and founder of Tech Superpowers, a managed IT services provider and Apple reseller in Boston.

"[If that's the case] it's going to fall flat on its face, [and] this is the only time you'll hear about it," Oh said.

IBM-Apple alliance

  • Apple and IBM to develop over 100 industry-specific enterprise solutions, including new iPhone/iPad apps.
  • The apps will begin to arrive this fall, and IBM will resell iPhones/iPads containing them to clients worldwide.
  • The companies will develop IBM cloud services optimized for iOS. Targeted markets include security, mobile device management, and big data/analytics.
  • New enterprise-focused AppleCare services will be offered, as will new packaged offerings from IBM for device activation, supply and management.

Some users doubt the deal will even allow Apple to sell more mobile devices -- despite access to IBM’s mammoth corporate user base because so many of those users already have Apple devices officially supported by their IT departments. They fail to see why their respective companies would buy more Apple devices.

“We are deep enough into the BYOD age now where companies just don’t need or want to invest in devices people use for home and work,” said Mike Drips, a solutions architect with WiPro, Inc. in Houston.

But some IT pros see the alliance benefitting them through a smooth melding of IBM and Apple's complimentary technologies. They also believe each company can benefit not just financially but technologically from the other. 

“Through the integration of IBM’s server-based technology and Apple’s user experience expertise, both parties can benefit from each other," said Nigel Fortlage CIO with GHY International, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

IBM's recently-acquired enterprise mobility management (EMM) company Fiberlink and its cloud-based MaaS360 EMM product were not specifically mentioned in IBM and Apple's partnership disclosure, however IBM will provide cloud services for iOS device management. A new enterprise version of AppleCare for product support and services is also included in the partnership.

IBM, Apple application opportunities abound

One technology advantage the alliance could deliver is the possibility of Siri being built into applications to help users access and retrieve information from IBM server-based databases and other data stores.

“The intriguing prospect is Apple helping knit Siri into the interface of these applications so business users can query server-based analytics software and databases or check on the progress of ERP activities," said Ezra Gottheil, principal analyst with Technology Business Research, Inc., market researchers in Hampton, New Hampshire. "If this agreement leads to that, this will be a very big deal.” 

[IBM] may give Apple the edge it needs to regain enterprise market share against Android.
Nigel FortlageCIO of GHY International

During a briefing with analysts this week, IBM executives emphasized the value its management and security software could bring to the alliance by better managing and securing Apple’s mobile devices, Gottheil said. This would largely benefit IBM-based shops in terms of convenience but may not offer any unique advantages.

“This can be a one-stop shop for Big Blue customers, taking care of their mobile security concerns," Gottheil said. "But then everyone has a solution for BYOD management, so there is no reason to believe it will be any stronger than what HP or Dell can provide.”

IBM and Apple executives gave no indication they plan to deliver new mobile devices. The majority of IT shops will likely license and download the upcoming 100-plus applications being developed by IBM and Apple onto existing devices, instead of buying new devices with the applications bundled, Gottheil said.

“I would say there is zero chance there will be any specialized hardware device for IBM enterprises," he said. "Besides, this would cause Steve Jobs to rotate rapidly in his grave.”

IBM-Apple alliance may cast shadow on Android, Microsoft

This deal gives Apple significant street cred among corporate accounts and will give them a boost against competitors, said Fortlage, whose company has standardized on IBM server hardware.

"If Blackberry wasn’t dead before, this is a march toward that eventuality now, Fortlage added.

And this is the sort of partnership the Android market doesn't have, not even with Samsung, Fortlage said.

"[IBM] may give Apple the edge it needs to regain enterprise market share against Android,” he said.

The deal could not only affect the fortunes of Google’s Android business, and a slew of mobile device management vendors, but also Microsoft’s mobile hardware and software offerings. Microsoft is in the midst of a transformation, as outlined last week in a company-wide memo by CEO Satya Nadella, but it may not move fast enough.

“With IBM aggressively bringing a suite of enterprise applications tied to iOS that gives complete mobility to your employees, it will take Microsoft a very long time to respond," Drips said. "Frankly, I doubt they have that capability.”

An agreement where IBM can provide enterprise applications to businesses with direct integration into front-end systems could give it a huge advantage over competitors including  SAP, Oracle or CA Technologies. But making sure those applications are the right fit  for  what businesses want will make or break the agreement, according to Jack Gold, analyst and principal at J. Gold Associates in Northborough, Massachusetts.

"If you’ve got a crappy app, they don't care if you've got a partnership with God, they aren't going to buy it," he said.

Insiders and users don't believe Apple and IBM will immediately go after the productivity and collaboration market currently dominated by Microsoft Office and Google Apps. Big data and analytics seem to be the most likely avenue to start and could be driven by IBM's Cognos analytics tool, according to Eric Klein, analyst with VDC Research in Natick, Massachusetts. Cognos has been available on the Apple iPad since 2011.

One analyst countered that the strategic importance of the deal is already overhyped and may prove a poor fit for both companies.

“It’s a partnership between a hardware and enterprise services company. It’s a hullabaloo about a small announcement, in my opinion," said Wes Miller, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, a market researcher in Kirkland, Washington.

"Earth-shattering? I don’t think so.”

Senior news writer Diana Hwang contributed to this report.

Dig Deeper on Apple iOS in the enterprise

Join the conversation


Send me notifications when other members comment.

Please create a username to comment.

How do you think the IBM-Apple deal will benefit IT shops?
Since many organizations / enterprises use Apple devices, I think this will be greatly beneficial to IT staffs and shops in general. This deal will allow users to have the same mobile convenience at their job that they do in their personal lives. This is a huge hit for both companies. 
I don't think IBM will see much value from the partnership.  I just don see shops that are tied into Windows systems converting over to iOS en masse. The new equipment, training costs, reconfiguration of systems and databases, etc., isn't particularly cost effective.

Apple will be able to use IBM's relationships to move their devices, but I don't really see what IBM hopes to achieve.