IBM’s announcement on July 15 2014 that they are entering into a global partnership with Apple to transform enterprise mobility has both substance and spin.
The significance of this announcement stems from the enterprise level security, lifecycle support, and integration that IBM is bringing to iOS. IBM’s MaaS360 brings comprehensive mobile device management to bear so users will have a highly secure workplace container for enterprise content. IBM and Apple are also addressing iOS lifecycle concerns. IBM will offer a managed service whereby Apple provides IBM with a beta version of the upcoming iOS release and IBM will test and remediate issues for iOS applications. This way, when Apple suggests that a user upgrade to the latest version of iOS, an enterprise can avoid the potential for broken applications. IBM will also extend BlueMix so that it supports the 4,000 APIs of Apple’s iOS 8 (BlueMix Mobile for iOS). This brings enterprise scale to Apple-based mobile environments.
IBM is clearly anxious to draw attention to its MobileFirst strategy and forging a relationship with a brand known for innovation certainly seems like a great way to build momentum. But IBM’s software division has always prided itself in acknowledging market heterogeneity and delivering solutions that have broad horizontal applicability. This makes IBM’s identification of a unique relationship with Apple unusual at first glance. While the terms of the deal were not disclosed, IBM was interested in attaching a certain amount of cachet to the deal which would be consistent with Apple’s branding, However, it did surface under questioning that the capabilities that IBM is bringing to iOS (development and lifecycle) will also be included in the general platform offering (MaaS360 and MobileFirst). This means that although iOS will be the first to receive IBM’s attention from a comprehensive solutions, platform, services, and support perspective; this distinction will not be lasting.
IBM needed to and did communicate that they have a reliable infrastructure and business model backing up iOS. Although IBM did speak of 100+ new native iOS applications that will leverage big data and analytics, these applications will only begin to surface in the fall of 2014. It’s a shame that IBM didn’t spend more time addressing the framework now in place to support development of these applications or provide some commentary on how innovative these applications will be. This was clearly a missed opportunity for IBM because a preview of how clever new applications that leverage mobility features (voice, touch, push, and LBS) in conjunction with the IBM/Apple premium branding would transform the enterprise would have generated the unique story that IBM was looking for.