In the Wheelhouse: Apple, IBM, and a Missed Opportunity

Analysis of News Events
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Today, I'm talking about the deal between Apple and IBM and how it could affect BlackBerry. Sadly, my take on it isn't all roses.


This week, IBM and Apple teamed up to provide mobile solutions for the enterprise market.


As per the agreement:


The landmark partnership aims to redefine the way work will get done, address key industry mobility challenges and spark true mobile-led business change—grounded in four core capabilities:


  • a new class of more than 100 industry-specific enterprise solutions including native apps, developed exclusively from the ground up, for iPhone and iPad
  • unique IBM cloud services optimized for iOS, including device management, security, analytics and mobile integration
  • new AppleCare service and support offering tailored to the needs of the enterprise
  • new packaged offerings from IBM for device activation, supply and management.


The companies will collaborate to build IBM MobileFirst for iOS Solutions—a new class of 'made-for-business apps' targeting specific industry issues or opportunities in retail, healthcare, banking, travel and transportation, telecommunications and insurance, among others, that will become available starting this fall and into 2015.


- Mobile platform: The IBM MobileFirst Platform for iOS 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. Enhanced mobile management includes a private app catalog, data and transaction security services, and productivity suite for all IBM MobileFirst for iOS solutions. In addition to on-premise software solutions, all these services will be available on Bluemix—IBM's development platform on the IBM Cloud Marketplace.


- Mobile service and support: AppleCare for Enterprise will provide IT departments and end users with 24/7 assistance from Apple's award-winning customer support group, with on-site service delivered by IBM.


- Packaged service offerings: IBM is introducing IBM MobileFirst Supply and Management for device supply, activation and management services for iPhone and iPad, with leasing options.

What Is and What Could've Been

There's a lot of good in this announcement. First, IBM becomes an Apple device reseller. IBM can take these solutions and pre-package them with those "industry specific solutions" and move Apple hardware into the enterprise.


Second, IBM gets to hang out with the really cool kids. We all went to high school once upon a time. Have you ever spent a few hours with kids who were way more popular than you? Ever date someone who was so far out of your league that even you were wondering what the heck must be wrong with that person?


That's what's happening here. IBM gains some much-needed street cred by this partnership, making it look like a far more attractive company than it did last week.


Apple gets an inroad into major enterprises, plus makes it look like it can gain some security/corporate-friendly cred that BlackBerry has had for years. BlackBerry has been synonymous with "corporate" and "security" for a long time. While Apple is in the enterprise today, the deal helps Apple move slightly toward being thought of more as a secure business device, if only by association with Big Blue.


I've seen more than a few people on Twitter say, "What does this mean for IBM i customers?" Well, not too much. Given the fact that MobileFirst is not a solution that most people could add as a line item on an expense report, this solution appears geared toward the high-end customers of the world. MobileFirst is not inexpensive. This isn't the IBM i space as IBM i is midmarket for the most part.


The potentially attractive component of this deal to midmarket customers is the reseller aspect, mostly as a convenience option. Although I seriously doubt that IBM will be given deep reseller discounts, or any discounts either worth mentioning or at all for that matter, the ability to order through your IBM Business Partner rather than a Best Buy or your telecom might offer somebody somewhere in the channel some points to work with. Those details haven't been made public, if they even exist. If you're a Business Partner, then don't hold your breath.


Many pundits have mentioned that this could be the death blow to BlackBerry. It's not. BlackBerry isn't even really relevant anymore, with their disappointing BB10 sales, although the company stock has been riding a relative high this year, up 50% as of Tuesday. Will it hurt BlackBerry? Well, their stock dropped 9% on Wednesday after the announcement, when analysts started saying the deal was bad news for the former mobility giant. Will it drive BlackBerry out of some major players? Potentially, but I doubt it will be at the rate some analysts expect, and it's not an immediate threat.


The IBM/Apple deal is just an unwelcome arrival at a BlackBerry party. How much damage they do is really entirely up to them, but for once I don't hear the bells tolling for BlackBerry.


What I see here is a major miss by IBM on a hot button announcement to mention that they have existing apps for solutions that have penetrated those corporations for years:


  • IBM Connections
  • IBM Sametime
  • IBM Notes Traveler Companion
  • IBM Notes Traveler To Do
  • IBM Sametime Meetings
  • IBM SmartCloud Meetings
  • IBM Cognos Mobile


Not to make this article all about Notes/Domino, Traveler, Connections, and Sametime, but there is a market for those solutions. While this announcement is about MobileFirst, cloud, analytics, and big data, I still don't understand why the heck IBM won't tack on a blurb about what solutions they've built for iPhones and iPads that exist today.


That fact is discordant given IBM's most recent disappointing earnings report and the march toward the Roadmap 2015 goal of $20 per share.


Yes, I know it's "about the future" and "not about legacy."


When IBM hasn't had quarterly revenue growth since the end of 2011, you'd think that maybe advertising the existing apps for those existing solutions might, you know, help out. IBM Notes is still a billion-dollar cash cow for IBM, whether they want to admit it or not. With the rebranding by dropping the Lotus name, the elegant Notes 9 design, the new Sametime 9, the recently announced IBM Connections 5, what do they have to lose by highlighting those applications in this announcement?


Nothing. And it costs exactly that to take advantage of an easy opportunity to showcase those existing solutions in a major press release where they would certainly not look out of place.


IBM has the ability to tap the midmarket by affirming that those solutions are still very relevant. I think Big Blue missed a golden opportunity to do that. Saying they're developing hundreds of industry-specific applications and delivering pre-loaded devices is all well and good, but they could have said, "We've been doing Apple development for a long time and recognize the strengths of IBM software such as X, Y, and Z already integrated with Apple devices. We can help you now and in the future. Check out the goods we already have."


Admittedly, I don't have a marketing degree. I'm just a midmarket customer.