Apple Inc. and International Business Machines Corp. today released a series of mobile applications for businesses, the first major element of the companies’ partnership announced in July. While it may not signal a massive shift in CIO strategy right away, the apps could trigger a strategic rethink about how mobile can transform the enterprise.
“They are taking extraordinarily complex integration problems and business processes and turning them into apps that are three our four screens and incredibly easy to use,” said Gartner analyst Van Baker, who has gotten some face time with three of the 10 apps. ”It’s going to open some eyes in terms of how revolutionary mobile can be and how much it can impact business processes.”
Called IBM MobileFirst for iOS, the apps are expected to span industries including retail, law enforcement, banking, insurance, air travel and field service operations. Some apps let pilots with iPads make better decisions about how much fuel their planes need to carry, the Journal’s Don Clark notes, or let flight attendants rebook tickets in case of missed connections.
While many startups, and even some large companies, are developing enterprise applications to use or sell, many don’t come close to the offerings from Apple and IBM, Mr. Baker said. Often companies build mobile applications that do little more than mirror the desktop version, and don’t necessarily use mobile capabilities in new or innovative ways. If successful, the Apple-IBM apps may lead CIOs to think harder about how to play to mobile’s strengths and better optimize apps for the platform.
“This is really going to raise the issue of BYOD and mobile device management to a head,” said Jeff Corbin, founder and CEO of APPrise Mobile. The Apple-IBM deal highlights the broader shift to mobile in the enterprise, he said, as mobile devices gain more computing power, and as more workers ditch their desktops and turn to smartphones and tablets as primary work tools. It also acknowledges that developers may need to focus more on building software for mobile operating systems first. “This is going to force enterprises, as well as small companies, to start to reconsider how they use mobile with their workforces.”
In July, Apple and IBM announced plans to develop more than 100 industry-specific business applications for iPhones and iPads running Apple’s iOS platform. IBM will sell Apple products with those built-in apps to its clients globally. Apple also said it would add more services to its AppleCare program to support enterprise customers.
A main roadblock likely will be cost, especially for non-IBM shops, Mr. Baker said. Some companies look to inexpensive open source tools to build their own apps, but may not be able to customize or integrate the apps as fully as they would like. Mr. Corbin also noted cost as a potential obstacle, as companies think about how to make use of existing resources. “There’s been a lot of money spent on non-mobile devices,” he said. “How much has already been spent in the enterprise that could be rendered obsolete?”
The deal underscores Apple’s push to expand the reach of it’s iPhone and iPad within companies, while IBM looks to move more of its business software onto the mobile devices increasingly used by employees, the WSJ’s Daisuke Wakabayashi reported earlier this year.
As CIO Journal reported in July, Apple’s partnership may not drive a massive shift in mobile strategy for the CIO, at least not right away. But IBM’s backing could make them more willing to give Apple a try, meaning new inroads for i-Products in the enterprise arena traditionally dominated by Microsoft Corp.’s Windows OS. IBM’s endorsement “will give more companies the confidence to try out Apple products, and help in configuring Apple products and the company’s technology to work well together,” Forrester analyst Frank Gillett told CIO Journal earlier this year.
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