Strategic CIO // Digital Business
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Chris Murphy
Chris Murphy
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IBM-Apple Deal Feeds CIO App Ambitions

But do CIOs want Apple-only, ready-made apps? Custom, in-house apps have advantages.

CIOs desperately want to shed IT's reputation for doing only big, hairy, not-quite-right technology projects, and instead be seen as the go-to source of nimble, lightweight, just-what-you-need apps.

The new IBM-Apple deal, announced on July 15, feeds on this IT aspiration. The deal promises to deliver 100 ready-made, enterprise-class smartphone apps tuned to your industry, better enterprise support for iPhones and iPads, and easier Apple device management. It promises IBM's big data analytical depth with iPhone glitz. 

In those areas it touches, the IBM-Apple pact does look like a very big deal that will help CIOs solve certain employees' mobility problems, including their growing thirst for mobile data. For example, CIOs will welcome better enterprise support of Apple products. I've heard many a CIO grumble about Apple's limited support. Whether it's procuring devices or troubleshooting problems, Apple hasn’t had its heart in this kind of IT hand-holding. Apple often would point IT organizations to third-party firms. Now it has one very big third-party partner to point to: IBM.

However, the deal speaks only to those problems that fit into a tidy picture of an Apple-centric ecosystem. Mobility for CIOs is a whole lot more complicated, including Android devices, BYOD policies, Internet of Things data, and more. IBM has deep expertise and services across those areas, but the announcement refers four times to the "exclusive" nature of the IBM-Apple deal. CIOs will be looking for assurances that their complex mobile technology environments jibe with the IBM-Apple vision.

[Who loses from this deal? Read Apple-IBM Deal: Trouble For Google, Microsoft.]

IBM's plan to deliver 100 iOS apps this year and next also will appeal to CIOs looking to deliver on this fast-and-efficient vision for IT. But it raises one of the biggest questions I have about mobile strategies: Do CIOs see competitive advantage in such ready-made, single-platform apps, or will they instead do more custom mobile app development? IBM is promising that these apps will solve industry-specific business problems, based on its consulting work in these industries. But custom mobile apps should in theory be easier for IT teams to create in-house (or by tapping a few outside developers) than on-premises, custom-coded client-server apps. The new app mentality -- delivering only and exactly what the business needs, quickly -- could spark a new wave of in-house development, at least for large businesses, and particularly for customer-facing apps.

IBM faces plenty of competition in this purpose-built app market. The company has stayed out of the core enterprise application market, letting the likes of SAP and Oracle build the ERP, CRM, and supply chain systems while IBM gets paid to implement them. Now the action has moved to the edge, and the battle is over whose products will deliver the data generated by those core applications to the employee or customer touchscreen, and whose products will analyze that data. With the Apple deal, IBM gets an impressive new partner to go after that app market, but it still faces the big enterprise software vendors, which want to sell mobile add-ons to their enterprise applications.

For Apple, the IBM deal is a smart move, a clear move by CEO Tim Cook to put Apple in a more business-friendly mode. Much of the first-day analysis contrasted the deal with Steve Jobs's disinterest in enterprise IT. However, Cook's hardly committing heresy. Jobs's attitude toward the enterprise was something like: "You're welcome to buy our products once you realize they're superior." What he wasn't going to do was make accommodations to meet the picayune needs of the enterprise IT buyer, whom he once referred to as "confused" about what people really want from their technology.

The Apple-IBM deal isn’t a huge departure from the idea that Apple will build products for people, not for businesses. iOS 8 does include new business-friendly security and management improvements, and those are important. Overall, this deal shows Apple acknowledging that CIOs buying iPhones and iPads have some legit, unmet needs, but it's leaving the heaviest lifting to meet those needs to IBM. That’s the right focus for both companies.

InformationWeek's new Must Reads is a compendium of our best recent coverage of the Internet of Things. Find out the way in which an aging workforce will drive progress on the Internet of Things, why the IoT isn't as scary as some folks seem to think, how connected machines will change the supply chain, and more. (Free registration required.)

Chris Murphy is editor of InformationWeek and co-chair of the InformationWeek Conference. He has been covering technology leadership and CIO strategy issues for InformationWeek since 1999. Before that, he was editor of the Budapest Business Journal, a business newspaper in ... View Full Bio
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User Rank: Moderator
7/25/2014 | 8:23:08 AM
Re: The Devil is in the Details
CIO apps are an effective way to increase speed, productivity, efficiency and reliability. Yes, BYOD will continue to be driven by C-level.
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
7/18/2014 | 6:01:13 PM
Re: "Exclusive" applies to Apple, but not necessarily IBM
The parameters of the exclusivity have not been made public so far as I'm aware. It could mean that IBM is the only Apple Care for Enterprise support provider. Or it could be defined differently.
User Rank: Author
7/18/2014 | 2:29:21 PM
Re: The Devil is in the Details
That sentiment of "It would be great if ..." I think is exactly what this deal must address. This deal will make a difference to IT pros only if IBM is plugged into that vibe. Great insight, TerryB. 
User Rank: Ninja
7/18/2014 | 1:52:46 PM
Re: The Devil is in the Details
We don't use Lync or Sync here, even though we are AD we do not even use Exchange. We are Lotus Notes, which it's Traveler pushmail software does a great job of supporting all phones.

So I'm not sure if you are saying Lync/Sync goes beyond email and is also a VPN appliance or not. We need someting on iPhone which could create a VPN tunnel so that apps on phone can access data sources from my IBM i5 server sitting on a 10.29.x.x private network. Then I could have WAN apps.

Internally, it would great if my supervisors could walk shopfloor using iPhone/iPad apps tapped into my i5 server. But with our access points being RADIUS2 (by Corp std), not possible. We would have to configure access points to produce a non RADIUS network also, which defeats purpose of having RADIUS in the first place.

Like I said, our Corp guys took the easy way out now, just said we don't support tablets and phones connected to our private network. Seems hard to believe in this day and age but that is reality. Keep in mind we are heavy business to business manufacturer, we don't face consumers. So that makes this "head in sand" approach to mobile Touch apps even feasible.
User Rank: Ninja
7/18/2014 | 9:59:43 AM
Re: The Devil is in the Details
Microsoft Lync and Microsoft Sync support iPhones as well as Blackberry Enterprice.  These tools can support access to back end recourses.  Maybe this is what Apple and IBM will work on, providing the middleware for this access.
IW Pick
User Rank: Ninja
7/17/2014 | 1:58:05 PM
The Devil is in the Details
I have enormous respect for IBM, they rarely swing and miss on much. But I'm still not understanding exactly what is going on here.

Apps need data to work. The data in the enterprise is in many, many forms. As a developer, I live in the world where you connect the front end to the back end. So just what back end data sources can these apps talk to?  Web Services?  REST or SOAP? SQL compliant databases? SAP and Oracle adapters?

The latter is a special problem, licensing. Because those adapters are code based, you must have a SAP/Oracle client license to even connect to them.

I'm very curious what these 100 industry specific apps turn out to be. I heard one was "budgeting and forecasting" or "expense report processing". Those type apps have to integrate at back end, and there are a LOT of back ends to integrate with.

Now, would not surprise me if IBM planned on this, wants to be the integrator you hire to do the back end work to connect up to these pre built iPhone apps. That would make them a very smart cookie if it happens.

Integrating the iPhone into the enterprise network is not even possible at our MS AD based system. iPhones do not participate in AD to connect to our RADIUS wifi. I've still not seen a VPN solution which can use WAN to connect iPhone to private network to access internal servers for data. The only technique I know which works is to use reverse proxies to make internal sources public. Getting organized to do that in your back end legacy network is not trivial, leaving all security aspects aside.

This will be interesting to watch.
Charlie Babcock
Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
7/17/2014 | 1:32:44 PM
IBM on the edge is IBM in new territory
This insightful commentary points out how this deal is a major departure for IBM, as well as Apple. It's stayed away from application software, after a couple of false starts into it over 15 years ago. Now it's going to not only provide the end user, data handling application but it's going to do so it what it hopes is a user friendly, iOS format. That's going to be a leap, and will spur Oracle and SAP to stop bashing each other and start bashing IBM on the edge.
D. Henschen
D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
7/17/2014 | 12:45:53 PM
"Exclusive" applies to Apple, but not necessarily IBM
While the announcement may underscore the "exclusive" nature of this deal, I believe that applies to Apple's choice of a business software and selling partner. I DO NOT believe that it means that IBM will be backing away from working with other mobile platforms and devices as a provider of mobile application development software, mobile-management software, or as a provider of mobile-device procurement, configuration, provisining and management services.

There may be fallout from these deal, whereby Apple competitors get cozier with IBM competitors, but I don't see IBM dropping support for other platforms or losing its ability to deal with a heterogeous mobile enterprise.
David F. Carr
David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
7/17/2014 | 12:20:54 PM
Feeding the enterprise app store pipeline
I'll be interested to see whether IBM also becomes a conduit for other enterprise software makers it partners with to get into the app store and address needs beyond those IBM can fill itself.
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