Apple and IBM: A winning combo for IT

The breadth and depth of IBMs enterprise knowledge will be a boon to Apple

It will be some time before the dust settles after the unexpected partnership announced on Tuesday between Apple and IBM, but one thing is clear: This will change the dynamic of the enterprise mobility market in significant ways. In many respects, the joint press release the two companies issued doesn't convey the potential scale of this partnership.

The most common reaction was that the deal gives Apple instant credibility as an enterprise device builder. That advantage sunk in very quickly. The fact that Apple CEO Tim Cook and IBM CEO Ginni Rometty acknowledged that this has been in the works for two years shows that Apple has been seriously thinking about how to work better with enterprise IT and the various lines of business that exist in major companies.

It clearly underscores Apple's efforts over the past year or two to show that it takes the enterprise market very seriously. More importantly, by partnering with IBM, Apple will learn how to make iOS a more effective option in the enterprise -- a decided plus for customers even if they don't opt for an IBM-packaged solution for iOS deployments. (Here's a timeline of how iOS has evolved.)

Grasping the scale of what IBM can offer

What's missing in the first-blush reaction to the deal is an appreciation of the scope of institutional knowledge and resources about the enterprise that IBM brings to the table.

When many people think of IBM, they think of a company building servers, network storage and semiconductors or delivering big enterprise software and cloud services. Those are, of course, part of IBM and they represent much of the value it brings to this partnership. It also has robust business and technology services divisions that are massive in terms of the number of employees, streamlined processes and understanding of virtually any industry.

Many years ago, as an IT professional, I got to witness IBM's IT services division outsource help desk operations of a major media company. In very short order, IBM managed to learn all the business processes, organizational structure, the current technology policies and workflows, existing infrastructure, and common help desk issues throughout this company. Every step of the process seemed to be scripted with detailed specificity and any question or concern was answered quickly if not immediately. The efficiency and the understanding of enterprise needs was jaw-dropping and it arose from the fact that IBM had gone through this process hundreds (maybe even thousands) of times before.

Go through that process enough times and you learn very clearly what you need to do, how much hand-holding your enterprise customers need, the issues specific to the industries in which you operate, what information you need from customers, what details they need from you, how to structure a contract and the guarantees it provides, what resources you need to provide and how to manage the relationship between IT teams along the way. When things go wrong, you investigate, learn from it and build that knowledge into the process for future projects.

In short, you become an expert in the business and IT needs of large segments of every industry and you learn to tailor your offerings and experience to each customer.

Consider how that expertise in customer support will translate into a joint enterprise support initiative with Apple. If you manage the help desks not just for your own enterprise solutions but also that of major companies in a wide swath of industries, you have an immense level of knowledge and experience to draw on in terms of how to deliver support, anticipate needs and how to set and manage expectations using contractual terms like service level agreements or SLAs - the life blood of many IT service agreements.

Then consider that IBM isn't just bringing that level of expertise from its IT outsourcing and support businesses, but of every enterprise solutions and services division in the company -- app development, back-end infrastructure, big data and analytics, logistics, cloud solutions, network and device security, business process transformation, project management, CRM, mass deployment, user management and training. The result is an enterprise partner with expertise greater than most enterprise IT vendors out there.

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