Apple and IBM: A winning combo for IT

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

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That's an amazing level of knowledge and expertise that is being tied to Apple's iOS platform.

Apple brings more than just hardware to IBM

Apple brings its own strengths to the deal, as well; it's not just delivering iPhones and iPads for IBM to package and sell to its enterprise customers.

One of the biggest things Apple offers is its expertise in user experience design. Although this is obvious, it shouldn't be discounted.

One of the impacts of the BYOD and consumerization of IT trends is that users are no longer willing to settle for the clunky, limited, and inefficient business and enterprise software that permeated workplaces for 30 years or more. If IT cannot provide a solution that's quick and easy to use or that delivers a user interface that's subpar, most workers today can simply build their own solution using cloud services, mobile apps and even social media. With the widespread deployment of LTE/4G mobile networks, dissatisfied users can build and access their own solutions and workflows on a device that IT may have no control over (and might not even know about at all).

That presents a major challenge for IT, and many organizations are still struggling to address this phenomenon, often referred to as shadow or rogue IT. In many organizations, shadow IT is growing because it isn't just end users that are going around IT's back. Many line-of-business managers are creating or purchasing their own technology solutions. The rapid rise of cloud services from companies like Dropbox, Box, Evernote, Salesforce, Google and Amazon makes this incredibly easy for managers, despite privacy and data security issues.

The best way for IT leaders to counter this trend isn't by trying to force users to stop developing their own solutions, which they likely won't be able to do anyway. It's to deliver enterprise software and solutions that have the high-quality user experience workers are used to on their own smartphones and tablets. That Apple's designers and engineers are working with their IBM counterparts speaks volumes about the ability of the two companies to deliver consumer-like experiences when working with enterprise, business and productivity apps.

Combine this with IBM's expertise in building business solutions and you can enable IT leaders to say to executives, line-of-business managers and end users that, "We hear you and we're going to give you the kinds of tools you want and need" -- and then deliver on that promise. The partnership may be the first initiative that can truly blunt the threat of shadow IT in a real and large-scale way. That's incredibly significant for everyone involved.

Apple also brings with it its consumer-focused customer support, which continues to win multiple awards each year. While IBM will bring a breadth of enterprise support knowledge and experience, Apple will bring its successful support model. That should be a winning combination, though there might also be some culture shock for the two companies as they build a support infrastructure.

Can other companies compete?

The scale of this new partnership is incredible and it will be a force in the enterprise technology market. Together, the two companies have the capability to dominate enterprise mobility in particular, and enterprise technology in general in the coming years. That raises the question of whether other companies can truly compete with Apple and IBM. The answer isn't clear cut.

Although the announcement takes much of the wind out of the sails for Google's Android Work initiative, Google is a diverse company that has been making serious in-roads in the enterprise for years with its Google Apps business and, more recently, with ChromeOS.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is an entrenched incumbent and will likely remain so for the foreseeable future, though its attempts to generate significant consumer or business interest in Windows Phone or enterprise interest in Windows 8 haven't met with much success and the company is still reinventing itself under new CEO Satya Nadella. Microsoft's Enterprise Mobility Suite and the launch of Office for iPad demonstrate that it is serious about the arena IBM is filling with this partnership and Microsoft has solid enterprise chops of its own.

While I wouldn't call either Google or Microsoft out of the fight, both companies have some serious hurdles to overcome now. If they "lose" by Apple's and IBM's decision to partner up, it's clear there are also winners: Enterprise IT shops and the people they serve.

Ryan Faas is a freelance writer and technology consultant specializing in Mac and multiplatform network issues. He has been a Computerworld columnist since 2003 and is a frequent contributor to CITEworld.com. Faas is also the author of iPhone for Work (Apress, 2009). You can find out more about him at RyanFaas.com and follow him on Twitter (@ryanfaas).

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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