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Apple Returns to the Enterprise, Courtesy of IBM

Steve Ross - Blog - Shackleton Technologies

Written by Steve Ross

When it comes to the enterprise and large corporate market, Apple has struggled to replicate the successes of its iOS devices with consumers and smaller businesses. For years, Microsoft and Blackberry have dominated enterprise’s core IT landscape, but is the recent announcement, of a partnership between Apple and IBM, a sign that things might be about to change?

Apple’s problems in the enterprise are, in many ways, the result of its runaway popularity in other markets. Personal iOS devices remain immensely popular and, in ‘Bring Your Own Device’ workplaces, enterprise employees using their own iPhones or iPads expect to be able to access email and the internet or even work with corporate data and documents. 

In these unofficial BYOD situations, iOS devices present huge integration challenges to employers, in terms of security, permissions, process and policy – while also placing significant demand on company resources. These devices are often newer and more advanced than work-issue equivalents – consequently users expect upgrades, creating further uncomfortable strain on resources.

Apple’s BYOD troubles aren’t restricted to personal iOS products. Even in companies where Apple devices are officially issued to employees, those deployments are rarely for core enterprise IT tasks. Instead, Apple devices tend to be employed as useful accessories rather than productivity tools – leaving the meaty, fully-integrated and essential IT and communication duties to the enduring stranglehold of Microsoft and Blackberry.

Confidence and credibility

Essentially, Apple’s iOS has a credibility problem within the enterprise: large organisations don’t believe Apple devices can work for them in the same way competitor devices have done and do. In deciding to partner with IBM, Apple is making a statement that enterprise organisations can have complete confidence in iOS – and should opt for it over their tried and tested Blackberries and Windows devices. Apple CEO Tim Cook outlined the potential of the new partnership:

“iPhone and iPad can be found in 98% of the Fortune 500.” Cook said. “Apple delivers the things companies need most – security and scalable deployment along with a powerful platform for apps. We’re putting IBM’s renowned big data analytics at iOS users’ fingertips, which opens up a large market opportunity for Apple.”

What will the partnership look like?

The details of Apple and IBM’s partnership extend IBM’s existing MobileFirst initiative, also known as “IBM MobileFirst for iOS”. It will deliver features and initiatives, built around the iPad and iPhone, which cut to the heart of enterprise needs, including:

  • Over 100 native iOS apps
  • IBM hardware leasing options
  • Mass device management, security, analytics and integration services
  • Private IBM app catalogues
  • Links to IBM’s Bluemix development platform
  • Support services, including a special version of AppleCare with 24-hour telephone and email

The scope of the deal will span every area of enterprise, with solutions for healthcare, banking, travel, transportation, insurance and retail. It is also likely that the new apps will be created using Apple’s new programming language, ‘Swift’ (replacing Objective-C) and exploit the enterprise-focused benefits of iOS 8 – a strategy which should, in theory, mean fewer lines of code and a reduced drain on company resources.

Making up lost ground

Since the enterprise landscape has traditionally been territory occupied by Blackberry, Windows and Android, Apple is banking on their IBM partnership making up ground on their competitors. Analyst Charles King of Pund-IT commented on a shift in the enterprise power-

balance, noting that Apple and IBM have the same users as Microsoft “in the crosshairs”, while Kantar Worldpanel analyst, Carolina Milanesi, used the phrase, “the last straw” to describe the partnership in relation to the embattled Blackberry’s once-uncontested hold over the enterprise landscape.

Google is also going to have a fight on its hands since the combined power of the Apple and IBM brand may be enough to tempt loyal users away from Android. While no means a decisive blow to Google’s enterprise ambitions, the Apple-IBM alliance will, according to Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies, “become one of the most important and powerful tech partnerships we have ever seen”.

How will you benefit?

By integrating iOS devices more comprehensively with enterprise networks, the focus of competing tech-companies will turn back to the effectiveness of their devices on a personal level. Apple and IBM will be attempting to replicate the former’s dominance in the consumer market – by luring businesses with a raft of highly-useful apps and seamless cloud integration.

 Indeed, in the wake of Apple’s partnership news, Microsoft responded with a memo from Chief Executive Satya Nadella, promising to “reinvent” the company’s own enterprise capabilities “to empower every person and every organisation on the planet to do more and achieve more”. 

Just how successful Apple and IBM’s partnership will be depends on the willingness of businesses to take up the offerings presented – and their ability to integrate with existing enterprise networks. Whether Apple succeeds in levelling the enterprise playing-field – or even surpassing Microsoft, Blackberry and Google – it seems likely that users will benefit from the attempt.