The much publicized new partnership between Apple and IBM, to develop an enterprise-friendly range of systems on tablets and smartphones, will ease some serious enterprise concerns around how to manage Apple’s iOS systems – but it leaves a number of questions around integration, functionality and security.
This is according to industry experts, who paint the new agreement as an important move in the maturation of Apple-inclusive bring your own device (BYOD) or choose your own device (CYOD) deployments in the workplace, which allow staff to use their own tablet/phone or choose from a range of pre-approved devices, respectively.
The partnership, announced yesterday, will see IBM provide cloud device management and security to businesses using Apple iPhones and iPads. It will also enable IBM customers to directly buy Apple devices from the services provider. It is particularly focused around providing enterprise information and reporting capabilities on mobile phones and tablets, including big data analytics.
Under the deal, IBM and Apple will provide much more enterprise focused support for Apple devices, as well as developing over 100 industry specific applications, targeted at sectors ranging from health care, retail and manufacturing to finance and the public sector.
Apple CEO Tim Cook insisted in a message to staff, published on 9To5 Mac, that “people love to use iOS devices and Apple delivers the things companies need most—security and scalable deployment along with a powerful platform for apps”. And Bridget van Kralingen, IBM senior VP of global business services, told Reuters that the companies will “focus on creating an absolutely irresistible workflow and processes, and a design of apps that can be used by every user in [an] organisation”.
The Dilemma That CIOs Now Face
Chief information officers’ opinions across industry have long been split over whether Apple’s consumer-focused iOS operating system, popular among employees in their personal lives, could be secured and integrated appropriately for business applications and sensitive data.
John Delaney, associate VP of mobility at analyst house IDC, tells Forbes that a recent survey among large businesses in Europe reveals “around 28 per cent of devices in use in the respondents’ organisations were running iOS”, indicating strong usage that region. For tablets alone, the global figure is especially high: Creative Technologies estimates that 73 per cent of enterprise tablets are iPads.
Delaney notes that Apple had already moved to make iOS more enterprise friendly in recent months “through the security and management capabilities that were built into the platform with the release of iOS7”. The partnership with IBM would likely accelerate that change, he says, and Apple’s coming iOS8 system addresses these areas further.
As enterprises increasingly look to make more use of business applications on mobile devices – for a competitive advantage in flexibility and productivity – manufacturers such as Apple will rely on enterprise partners, he notes, “to do the heavy lifting that will increasingly be required in areas such as mobile application development, lifecycle management and systems integration”. Apple is likely to seek other partners, similar to IBM, that can also provide enterprise capabilities and support.
The deal is a “landmark agreement”, according to Forrester analyst Frank Gillett, who adds that it gives Apple “enterprise capabilities and credibility at one stroke”, changing how businesses view the devices. “Apple has been dragged into the enterprise by individuals that want the same mobile convenience on the job that they use in their personal lives,” he says, “but has resisted servicing enterprises for fear of losing its famed focus on top quality user experience.”
IBM appears to have “special access rights to certain security features on the devices that others will not have access to”, so that it can protect data and “offer applications and services through Apple devices that behave more like the software businesses have long built on Windows platforms”, according to Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney, speaking in a BBC interview.
The move also undercuts the key business criticism of Apple, that “they were not seen as being serious about the enterprise”, according to Tim Bajarin, president of research firm Creative Strategies. “Now they have a worldwide sales force and support organization to take the iPad and iPhones directly to the customer as well as provide the tools, back end integration, security and support for just about any IT operation anywhere in the world.”
He tells Forbes: “Most CIOs I talk to are actually big fans of Apple and iOS, and because of BYOD have already had to support them to some degree. However, with IBM porting their IT mobile apps it will bring much tighter integration into an IT overall system and allows IBM to be much more comprehensive in what they can offer and manage in their total solutions programs.”
Will The Partnership Go Far Enough?
Much remains unknown about how the agreement will work for enterprises in practice, or just how far along the development lifecycle the two companies are, which could affect how quickly businesses take up the new offerings.
Roger Kay, an analyst at Endpoint Technologies, says in a Computerworld interview that IBM now has the opportunity to ease the worries of CIOs faced with demands to link enterprise applications and iOS devices. “If IBM can come in and say, ‘We’ll make sure this Apple stuff works well with the other stuff you’ve got already,’ it will make the IT guy feel a lot better,” he explains. “What it allows Apple to do is not change its philosophy and lay off to IBM the whole issue of, how do you make iPhones work for IT managers who actually want to be treated like a valued customer.”
Charles King, analyst at Pund-IT, says that having official IBM support for the 100 apps “will be attractive to some core IBM constituencies, but it’s hard to say how many will jump to replace what they have now”.
What Happens To Enterprises Using Android, Windows Phone And BlackBerry
The partnership could be a major step, over time at least, towards shifting the balance of preferred mobile systems in enterprises.
“The users that Apple and IBM will be going after with this deal are exactly in the crosshairs that Microsoft has been going after in the last few years with Windows Phone,” King says in the Computerworld interview. Meanwhile, Kantar Worldpanel analyst Carolina Milanesi warns that it could be “the last straw” for BlackBerry, once the unchallenged enterprise favourite.
The deal also “makes it much harder to get serious consideration for [Google] Android in corporations”, explains Bajarin at Creative Strategies. “This doesn’t mean Windows 8 or even Android devices will be locked out of IT,” he says, but adds that the IBM and Apple combination could be a convincing proposition to many large businesses. “Given the power and clout of both companies, I suspect this will become one of the most important and powerful tech partnerships we have ever seen.”
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