Apple and IBM strive to become part of the enterprise DNA

The relationship between Apple and IBM continues to flourish. In December, the companies rolled out the first software solutions from a partnership originally announced in July. Delivered under the MobileFirst for iOS banner, the software focuses on a variety of industry verticals, and delivers capabilities including analytics directly on the iPad. The question is, how effective will this be at driving the iPad and iPhone into the enterprise?

The companies announced a variety of applications targeting verticals including transportation, finance, telecommunications, and retail. They include applications to manage fuel expenses for airlines by providing pilots with flight schedule information and crew manifests ahead of time. Passenger+ is aimed at airplane flight crews, enabling them to offer personalized services to passengers in-flight.

Banking personnel get Advise & Grow, enabling them to access client profiles for small business customers, and Trusted Advice, which gives them predictive analytics while on the road visiting financial clients.

MobileFirst is part of a broader partnership between the two companies. In addition to over 100 industry-specific applications for Apple mobile devices, IBM is also supplying and activating iOS equipment under an enterprise-focused service package. This includes a new AppleCare service and support package for corporate users.

How effective is Apple at enterprise sales today? In an earnings call early this year, Apple CEO Tim Cook said that the iPhone is used in 97 per cent of the Fortune 500, while the iPad is used in 98 per cent of those companies. Statistics from other firms bear out the growth of Apple’s mobile devices in the enterprise space. Good Technology, which sells mobile security software to enterprise customers, cited its own device activation data in February, suggesting that people were migrating away from embattled BlackBerry, and activating Apple and Google devices instead. In the tablet market, iOS accounted for over nine in every 10 activations.

How enterprises use iOS

The question is how many of those devices are used in a highly integrated, structured way, supporting core business processes, rather than simply productivity applications, such as accessing email, calendars, and web browsing? That’s unclear, but it’s certainly what the Apple and IBM deal is meant to accomplish. Making mobility part of an enterprise’s DNA, rather than simply a productivity bold-on, will be a key strategy in Apple’s expansion into the enterprise.

An expansion of the iPad’s market is necessary. Tablet sales have been slowing for months now, and sales of the iPad, which defined the category, have also faced headwinds. Analysts have predicted slippage in iPad sales in the coming quarter, and all this points to a need to grow the category in new markets.

Perhaps all of this is why Apple is said to have hired a dedicated enterprise sales force to court potential clients, like Citi. The technology giant has signed that company, along with Air Canada, Sprint, and Banorte as enterprise iPad customers.

The deal with IBM will be a crucial tool in Apple’s enterprise push. Big Blue has put its consulting expertise behind the initiative, bringing to bear its experience in analytics, workflow, and cloud storage, along with large-scale device management and security. If any partner can help Apple shoulder its way further into the enterprise space, it’s IBM.

IBM’s own financials have suffered as the company continues to grapple with a fast-changing market. Q3 revenue from continuing operations dipped four per cent  year-on-year, while net income plummeted 18%. One of the few shining lights in IBM’s dim profit and loss sheet was mobile revenue, which more than doubled year-on-year. For a powerful mobile player like Apple, that’s a positive sign.

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Danny Bradbury
Danny Bradbury
Danny Bradbury is a technology journalist with over 20 years' experience writing about security, software development, and networking.

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