Apple-IBM Deal a Marriage of Two Masters

Now that Apple and IBM, rivals of 30 years, are working together, their greatest challenge could be coexisting “to seamlessly work for customers.”

That’s the word from Mark Skilton, a professor who researches the IT industry at the Warwick Business School.

“The challenge for IBM and Apple will be in the marriage of two masters, one in consumer mobile and one in enterprise systems,” he said.

Still, the deal poses immense opportunity for the two corporations, and bodes well for enterprises’ IT staff. But the news isn’t so good for Apple competitor Microsoft.

On Tuesday, longtime competitors Apple and IBM said they’ve inked an exclusive deal in which IBM will build new enterprise apps for iOS, and resell iPhones and iPads preloaded with those apps, to its corporate customers. Meantime, Apple will create new support services for businesses.

The announcement marks a significant end to three decades of rivalry. Recall that, in 1984, Apple took to the TV airwaves to bash IBM as a corporate villain. Now, the two behemoths are partnering to help IT staff oversee security, analytics and device management.

Skilton said the alliance makes sense. For one thing, IBM holds strengths in enterprise data, service orchestration and cloud services integration thanks to its 2013 SoftLayer acquisition, he said. But what IBM does not have is its own mobile platform and device market. So, he said, “the alliance with Apple is a return to the strategic co-competitors we have seen in the past with these two companies with the Mac and PC.”

At the same time, Apple lacks the industrial enterprise business model for large-scale enterprise solutions, said Skilton. Working with IBM will give Apple faster enterprise-level services through devices, he said.

That will be a boon for IT professionals tasked with managing employees’ devices, observers said.

“If IBM can come in and say, ‘We’ll make sure this Apple stuff works well with the other stuff you’ve got already,’ it will make the IT guy feel a lot better,” Roger Kay, founder of Endpoint Technologies, told ITworld.

However, while the pairing is good for Apple, IBM and end users, it may pose problems for Microsoft, which is trying to become a bigger player in cloud and mobility.

“Microsoft may not be able to be master of both in consumer and enterprise markets,” Skilton said, using the failed Facebook phone as an example of how companies must be able to create quality services and content for enterprises and consumers.

“The big opportunity and challenge is in connectivity between mobile devices, cloud computing and the data drivers of social media and analytics through this mobile infrastructure over the Internet,” he said.

Apple and IBM aim to do just that. And because their agreement is exclusive – they made sure to emphasize that aspect in Tuesday’s press release – it seems unlikely that either will go running to other firms for similar projects. In fact, IBM told ITworld that its apps and services will be specific to the iPhone and iPad.

“They are the best mobile devices in the world, from our view,” a spokeswoman for Big Blue told the publication.

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