For all of those people out there who seem shocked by their joint announcement that Apple and IBM would team up to bring IBM’s enterprise and big data applications to the iOS platform, they probably haven’t been paying attention to IBM lately.
The only thing that’s really new in the announcement is that it formalizes activities that have been going on for some time. Apple products, especially the iPad and the iPhone, have penetrated deeply into large enterprises already and IBM provides sales and support services for nearly every form of IT.
But that’s not to suggest that the agreement is insignificant either, because it’s not. IBM will be selling and leasing Apple products, just as it’s been selling and leasing everything from BlackBerry devices to Windows computers for years. This agreement allows IBM to provide products that its customers already want, and it gives IBM a means to provide lifecycle sales, support and management for Apple products.
Apple, for its part, gets the endorsement of IBM, which is critical to widespread acceptance in large enterprises. “It’s an obvious need by both,” said Jack Gold, president and principal analyst for J. Gold Associates. Gold noted that there’s very little cost or risk for either company.
“What Apple gets is an endorsement from IBM into very large accounts,” Gold said. “IBM is getting something from Apple especially on developing apps, and Apple is getting support and endorsements and lifecycle management. Both get a win out of this.”
Gold said that IBM has done this many times before. “IBM has a whole leasing organization and they do it for everything,” Gold said. “They once had a Palm device.”
But just because this isn’t IBM’s first rodeo does it mean that the two companies won’t be breaking new ground with this partnership. For example, IBM will be setting up Apple Care for Enterprises, providing Apple’s phone support coupled with IBM’s on-site service and support, something that hasn’t really been available to Apple iOS device customers before.
IBM will also be developing a wide array of iOS apps. IBM will deliver the MobileFirst platform for iOS, which will provide enterprise cloud services for Apple devices. The company will also deliver service packages that allow customers to buy Apple iOS devices along with IBM software and services all at once.
But it’s worth knowing that something like this was bound to happen as Apple moved deeper into the enterprise. Unlike his predecessor, Apple CEO Tim Cook has always been aware of Apple’s potential in the enterprise and he’s always cared deeply about how businesses, especially large enterprises, use Apple products.
Apple, IBM Partnership Nails Down iOS Device Support in Enterprises
The result of that attention is obvious from the changes coming with iOS 8 that support enterprise users as well as enterprise-grade security requirements. While Apple usually keeps its plans to itself, this was one time that the company opened the kimono to show its enterprise intentions. At the time, the one thing missing was a good way for Apple to deliver on its enterprise aspirations. With the IBM agreement, the company has that part nailed down.
So the next obvious question is whether the agreement between Apple and IBM threatens any other company in the industry, and the answer is: probably not. Large enterprises have been bringing in iPads into the enterprise one way or the other anyway. The biggest difference is that with IBM’s blessing, those iPads (and to a lesser extent, iPhones) will find the corporate IT department to be a more willing partner.
But what about the other big corporate players, such as Microsoft and BlackBerry? The effect, if any, will likely be minor. Microsoft will retain the ubiquity of Windows and its Surface Pro 3 is aimed at an entirely different market than what the iPad serves. Microsoft Office already runs on nearly anything in the enterprise, so extending the reach of iOS devices into the enterprise only augments Microsoft’s market.
While Apple has IBM’s promise to deliver enterprise-grade security, it’s not at BlackBerry’s level yet. Only BlackBerry currently provides the level of encryption and malware resistance that some enterprises need. While other mobile device management products provide containerized security, only BlackBerry Balance has proven secure enough to allow the use of classified information. Right now, Apple doesn’t have anything close.
But the fact is that the IBM partnership will mean a great deal to Apple, which until now has labored under the impression that mobile products are mainly consumer devices with enterprise pretentions. Now, it will be clear that iOS devices can exist in the enterprise with full support.
In the long term, the agreement means a lot to both companies. Apple needed to shed the impressions that it wasn’t serious about serving enterprises with its devices. IBM needed a good mobile device platform that it can sell into its massive customer base.
The good news for Apple is that IBM’s customers tend to stay that way for a long time, which means Apple’s customers probably won’t desert just because something new comes out from Google. This is a good long-term move by both companies.