Last week, in what many are hailing as a breakthrough, Apple and IBM announced a joint partnership to manage Apple iOS devices in the Enterprise. The announcement highlighted four capabilities to be offered:

  • A new class of more than 100 industry-specific enterprise solutions including native apps, developed exclusively from the ground up, for iPhone and iPad;
  • Unique IBM cloud services optimized for iOS, including device management, security, analytics and mobile integration;
  • New AppleCare service and support offering tailored to the needs of the enterprise; and
  • New packaged offerings from IBM for device activation, supply and management.

There has already been a lot of conjecture about who the big winners and losers are, but my first blush impression is that the most obvious winner is IBM. The rationale is simple: iPhones and (especially) iPads are already in the Enterprise – they’re just hard to manage. But IBM is the league-leader when it comes to enterprise-wide system management. Put the two together and you’ve got – an Apple/IBM partnership! In addition, IBM gets a very obvious and really good looking facelift, and can now declare itself to be a leader in the “mobile first” movement in enterprise solutions.

Apple, which in the past has seemed rather disdainful of “enterprise” customers (or at least, not too concerned about their management challenges) has a powerful new partner that can help stave off any potential erosion of Apple’s commanding marketshare in mobile pad devices deployed in the enterprise. How commanding? According to a recent study published by Enterprise mobile services vendor Good Technology, iPad penetration in the enterprise is 91%!

But there are lots of beneficiaries in this deal. Here are the ones that come to mind right away:

Business end-users win

Corporate tech heads from my generation liked the Microsoft platform because of Bill Gates’ decision to make it very easy for 3rd parties (like us) to extend the capabilities of the Windows operating system (this, of course, is what has led to what some have called “DLL Hell”). But in my own family, my kids far prefereed the Macintosh during their school years because they just wanted the technology to work. In other words, for them, utility trumped flexibility.

Today’s tech-heads like the Android platform (and to a much lesser extent, Microsoft’s mobile OS) for the very same reasons that we liked Windows – you can extend its capabilities without having to go through someone like Apple to get it changed and certified. But if there’s any one thing I’ve learned in all my dealings with end-users, whether business associates or family members, it’s that they just want it to work (full-stop, no if-ands-or-buts). The problem with technologies that are easily extensible is that modifications also impact reliability – that’s why applications eventually break and have to be replaced.

So although we’ve all seen the ads on TV about how non-Apple mobile devices are bigger, faster, and sexier than Apple devices, Apple wins in the enterprise because workers “just want it to work”, and not have to mess around with the idio-stinkeries of technology. Since Apple IOS devices are hard to modify outside of the Apple-controlled environment, they tend to work. ‘Nuff said.

CIOs win, too

One of the more frequent “there but for the grace of God go I” CIO stories in the last couple of years relates to U.S. home improvement retailer Lowes’ 2012 decision to buy 40,000 Apple devices to enable store level employees. Although at the time the industry discussion was all about Lowes’ decision being a response to the buzz about the popularity of Apple Store, Bloomberg (correctly) identified it as a response to rival Home Depot’s decision to rollout Motorola mobile POS devices. Regardless, from a “CIO” perspective there were several negatives:

  • The Apple IOS development environment is “closed” – everything goes through a certification process controlled by Apple. That theoretically limited the IT Department’s ability to deliver new business value to the enterprise;
  • Apple controls the application management environment – downloads and updates happen through the Apple Appstore – and that takes time and money. That theoretically limited the IT department’s ability to respond to a fast-changing business environment;
  • People tend to believe that Apples don’t need support. This is nonsense of course – but it’s an outgrowth of Apple’s relentless focus on utility over flexibility. So a CIO’s relative inability to do much to support Apple device users was a big political liability (CIOs have enough credibility issues without adding to them).

Now (and assuming that the enterprise utilizes IBM’s system management frameworks), CIOs have a new option when it comes to offering mobile solutions on Apple devices. And although during the IBM press conference it was almost muttered rather than announced, IBM’s “Applecare” service will also extend to Mac computers – that will take a huge pressure off of CIOs.

But for CIOs who have non-IBM system management frameworks, the Apple/IBM relationship creates a new pressure-point (you can almost hear it now: “why don’t we have those capabilities?”).

Business transformation wins

RSR has seen in most of its recent studies that businesses are trying to transform their operational environments to make them more responsive to real-time conditions. This is being driven by technology, and especially by the ability to deliver alerts and metrics in something approaching real time, often in a graphical way (as opposed to words and numbers) on a mobile device. The Apple/IBM deal will vastly facilitate companies’ ability to deliver next-generation analytics to Operations, for example, right on the sales floor. While many technology companies are also working to deliver this kind of capability, the Apple partnership gives IBM a way to offer its business analytics capabilities to business users the way they want to see them – on their iPads.

Okay, so who loses?

Various parties are delivering their judgments about the impact of this partnership on Google’s “enterprise” prospects, how this is yet another nail in Blackberry’s coffin, and how Microsoft’s wildly over-optimistic ambitions in “mobile” will be impacted even more that they already have been by the failure of Windows 8 Mobile to catch on with consumers (and by the way, what was the Redmond company thinking when it bought Nokia for ten bucks, let alone $7.2B?). RSR has always felt that it’s best left to the market to determine which technology wins marketshare – but in the enterprise space, the market has spoken.

Additionally, companies that have “platformed” their retail solutions on non-Apple technologies must be concerned right now. As I said at the beginning, Apple already has a huge lead on all competitors in the enterprise space when it comes to mobile pads, and the IBM partnership will make that lead much more enduring – especially in retail environments where assisted selling is being emphasized. RSR’s friend Greg Buzek of IHL specifically brought up the IBM/Toshiba relationship as a question mark (Toshiba’s TCX Wave technology uses Microsoft Windows), but the same concern might also apply to other IBM partners, such as Motorola.

As in all cases, the market itself will be the ultimate arbiter, but the Apple/IBM partnership looks like a case of those companies’ looking up at the scoreboard and declaring “game over!” with an early, but commanding, lead.

This article originally appeared as 'Apple & IBM: looking at the score and declaring victory' on the RSR Research website. It is reproduced with the organisation's permission.