Global CIO: Apple's Next Billion-Dollar Idea: The Enterprise Mobility iCloud
Apple has a massive opportunity--and unique qualifications--to connect hundreds of millions of mobile workers with enterprise data and information through Apple's Next Big Thing: the iCloud.
If Steve Jobs could take on and tame the keiretsu-bound music industy, then he's got more than enough will and opportunity to lure into his web the brilliant but sometimes bumbling players in the enterprise mobility space. And what an opportunity it is: in a world where two of the critical business drivers are real-time information and robust mobile access to it, the company that can own—or at least lease—the intersection of those two forces will wield astonishing power in influencing business models, revenue flows, and the future direction of enterprise IT.
The tricky thing, of course, is that such an undertaking would require political skill, personal will, technological vision, marketing muscle, a big and bustling built-in base of followers, and lots of charisma. Oh, and I almost forgot: since enterprise mobility is the target, then it sure would help to also have some sway over a mobile brand that business users are crazy about.
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Would Jobs and Apple be up to it? Let's see: skill and will, check-check; vision, marketing, and followers, check-check-check; charisma and a lust-inspiring device, check-check.
Lots of enterprise-software companies are still struggling to create the hooks and links that would allow hundreds of millions of mobile workers around the world to seamlessly extract real-time and relevant information from enterprise apps, databases, data warehouses, and gobs of unstructured data. Some of these software companies have a solution for the iPhone but not for Blackberries or vice versa, while others have a solution that works for both but also requires a strange brew of third-party start-ups and service firms and plug-in makers and workaround specialists cobbled together into something that only Rube Goldberg could love.
But in these days when more and more CIOs are on aggressive campaigns to ruthlessly simplify their IT operations, those kludgy connectivity conglomerations just won't cut it. We need a place into which enterprise data and information can securely flow and from which mobile devices can pull all manner of real-time information as comprehensively and simply as if they were using their desktop.
What we need, folks, is an enterprise mobility cloud, one that's populated with the magnificent IP and insights and data and information and knowledge that power global business. This cloud needs to be able to handle data from SAP and Oracle ERP systems, from Microsoft and Symantec applications, from IBM and Accenture integration projects, from Wal-Mart's data warehouse and from Google's data center. And it needs to offer unfettered access to all types of devices, from Apple and RIM and Nokia and Samsung and LG and Palm and dozens more.
And Apple—maker of iTunes, creator of AppStore, shifter of paradigms—can be the Switzerland that makes the iCloud possible. It gets Apple more deeply into services businesses without Apple having necessarily to become a services company itself: just as the iPhone is designed by Apple but sourced and made by other companies across the globe, so too can The iCloud deliver the Apple brand and cachet and experience without Apple having to become an ISP and data-center kingpin and middleware black-belt and systems integrator all rolled into one.
Part of Apple's magic and certainly Jobs's magic is their ability to persuade and cajole and inspire far-flung technology types and disconnected but essential parties to coalesce in ways that create more opportunity for all involved by delivering more than any smaller subset could. So Apple will play general contractor and movie producer and shopping-mall developer, wooing specific types of talent and anchor tenants and ensuring the gritty but essential tools and foundation and infrastructure pieces are all in place before it opens up the finished product for public viewing.
It is impossible to overstate how important and how valuable that gritty infrastructure will be to CIOs caught between huge mobile-driven business opportunities and almost laughably bad tools for fulfilling that potential. While some progress has surely been made in these areas in the past six months, consider these two anecdotes from a terrific article on the contortions required to achieve decent enterprise mobility, written in March by my colleague Mary Hayes Weier: