IBM partners with Apple to deliver enterprise services for iOS

IBM has given Apple a major boost in the enterprise, through a partnership that will see it provide services and software for iOS

Apple has gained a major enterprise boost through a partnership that will see IBM provide services and software for Apple's iOS operating system.

As Computer Weekly has previously reported, supporting Apple devices such as iPads and iPhones in the enterprise is a challenge for IT departments.

Custom support from Apple is costly, and enterprises have to rely on specialist resellers if they wish to integrate iOS with existing enterprise IT.

Through the partnership, IBM will introduce MobileFirst Supply and Management, an IT service that offers device supply, activation and management services for iPhone and iPad. The service will also enable organisations to lease the devices, software and services.

IBM is also developing a product called MobileFirst Platform for iOS, which will deliver the services required for an end-to-end enterprise capability, from analytics, workflow and cloud storage, to fleet-scale device management, security and integration.

The platform will offer mobile management, a private apps catalogue and data and transaction security services. IBM will also develop a productivity suite for iOS. The products and services will be available on IBM’s development platform – Bluemix – and the IBM Cloud Marketplace.

More on supporting Apple devices

IBM chairman, president and CEO Ginni Rometty said: "This alliance with Apple will build on our momentum in bringing these innovations to our clients globally, and leverages IBM’s leadership in analytics, cloud, software and services."

Apple CEO Tim Cook (pictured above with Rometty) said: "For the first time ever, we’re putting IBM’s renowned big data analytics at iOS users’ fingertips, which opens up a large market opportunity for Apple. This is a radical step for enterprise and something that only Apple and IBM can deliver."

Apple has steadily been making inroads into business due to the popularity of iOS. "When people talk about consumerisation in the enterprise, it is the use of Apple devices," said Rob Bamforth. 

"Apple has great devices, but doesn’t have an enterprise story and is not good at stitching technology together, which is what IBM is good at. When you can integrate [mobile technology] tightly, it can power business transformation, which is the type of services IBM offers already," he said.

Strengthening Apple's business credentials

Speaking to Computer Weekly last month, prior to the alliance, Dale Vile, founder of analyst Freeform Dynamics, said Apple resisted the idea of being a business player for a few years, so it got away with a lot in terms of supporting the IT department. 

User expectation of solving problems on the go from a mobile device has compelled Apple to partner with IBM to address enterprise needs fully

Frank Gillett, Forrester

"This meant Apple was appalling at providing IT support compared with other players, such as Microsoft and Oracle, and companies that provided businesses with technical information available to IT departments or bug reports and fixes," he said.

But the partnership changes Apple’s credentials in the enterprise.

Commenting on the alliance, Forrester analyst Frank Gillett said: "Apple has been dragged into the enterprise by individuals who want the same mobile convenience at work as in their personal lives, but it has resisted servicing enterprises for fear of losing its famed focus on top-quality user experience. 

"But the rise of the mobile mind shift – the expectation of solving problems on the go from a mobile device – has compelled Apple to partner with IBM to address enterprise needs fully.

"The Apple/IBM partnership is a landmark agreement. Given IBM’s market strength and coverage, this partnership gives Apple enterprise capabilities and credibility at one stroke, and gives IBM a premium advantage in the race for mobile enterprise leadership. Look for Google and leading enterprise suppliers to seek partnerships that offer a credible alternative," Gillett added.

One-stop shop for enterprise iOS

Until now, organisations needed to purchase mobile device management (MDM) software from companies such as MobileIron and AirWatch. For instance, Great Ormond Street hospital is using iPads with MobileIron to deploy policies and standards to enforce security and block apps that might be a security or governance risk.

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The IBM/Apple partnership will offer enterprise IT an alternative to third-party MDM software and enable IBM to offer its analytics tools on iPads and iPhones. 

It is the biggest deal between the two firms since 1995, when IBM fell out with Microsoft and worked with Apple on Common Hardware Reference Platform (CHRP).

The deal looks good for both parties – IBM brings enterprise systems while Apple brings a formidable platform in the iPad and iPhone. But enterprise mobility is more than just the device.

Bola Rotibi, research director at Creative Intellect Consulting, said the Apple deal fits alongside a number of acquisitions IBM has made, including Fiberlink and Trusteer, which gave Big Blue device management, anti-fraud and security as a service.

The cost of deploying Apple devices on a large scale can easily overstretch some organisations, so the finance option is quite a smart move for IBM, because Apple devices are expensive, especially when you include MDM software and services, she said.

"This will take the financial pressure off enterprises. Businesses appreciate the ability to [offset] upfront costs," Rotibi added.

The deal could be good news for IT departments struggling to support the growing number of iOS devices. It could potentially drive the adoption of industry-specific applications developed for iPads and iPhones. 

But the two companies are culturally very different. The challenge for IBM and Apple is to make it all work together.

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