One Year Later Apple And IBM Remain Oddest Couple In Tech

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It was just a year ago today, that Apple and IBM shocked the world when they announced a partnership. Apple, the consummate consumer company was teaming up with IBM, the quintessential buttoned-down corporation with an enterprise pedigree.

It seemed to be the oddest of odd couples, but one year in and 32 apps later, the partnership seems to be flourishing and giving both companies what they wanted. For Apple, it was a chance to learn about the enterprise and sell more hardware, and for IBM it was an opportunity to get a little of that Apple software magic going in the clunky world of business software.

As Apple CEO Tim Cook said at the time of the announcement, IBM understood the business verticals Apple wanted a piece of.

“We knew that we needed to have a partner that deeply understood each of the verticals,” Cook told CNBC. “That had scale, that had a lot of dirt under their fingernails so to speak from really understanding each of these verticals and we found a kindred spirit in IBM.”

Katharyn White, IBM’s global lead for the IBM-Apple partnership told me in March, IBM wanted to introduce “the wow factor” to enterprise software. “The goal of the partnership is bring to our work lives, the same experience we have in our personal lives,” she said at the time. Apple has the ability to deliver that.

So far it seems that both sides have benefited.

It Takes All Kinds

On its face, this partnership seems like it could be a toxic cultural mix. You have two companies with very different ways of doing business coming together to try and create a different kind of enterprise software product. Analysts I spoke to, however, say that the differences may actually be a key to the success of the partnership so far.

“Actually the different cultures made this much more likely to work, as they were highly complementary to each other. IBM knows how to talk IT and Apple knows how to talk consumer/line of business. In this day and age you can’t sell into the enterprise without being fluent in both languages,” Jack Gold, principal at Jack Gold associates told TechCrunch.

They reinforce each other by providing their unique perspectives. I look at IBM/Apple as the Yin and Yang of mobile.
— Maribel Lopez, Lopez Research

Maribel Lopez, principal at Lopez Research agrees. “The companies have managed to find people that share similar visions but with different skill sets. They reinforce each other by providing their unique perspectives. I look at IBM/Apple as the Yin and Yang of mobile,” she said.

There’s An App For That

What these companies have tried to do is create a new generation of enterprise software, one that looks and feels like consumer apps, but that links to back-end corporate systems. So far the companies have come together to solve a variety of problems involving 10 industries and addressing some 40 job roles, according to information supplied by IBM.

This afternoon, the team is rolling out 10 new apps including a Mortgage Office Suite, a Business Travel Suite and an Operational Efficiency Suite. Last March, it introduced airline customer service passenger care tools and a retail buying suite.

As I wrote in March:

While these apps are all designed to simplify the life of the employee, they still have to connect in real time to existing systems of record, typically on-premises in a company data center and this could be one reason that IBM is so gung-ho about this deal.

Van Baker, an analyst who watches mobility for Gartner, likes what he’s seen from the partnership to this point. “Basically they are simple apps driven by strong backend processes. They have a reasonable number of active engagements and a significant pipeline for their apps and each app deployment tends to drive several additional engagements so the land and expand strategy is working for them,” Baker explained.

Looking Ahead

The companies have indicated they hope to release 100 apps by the end of the year, but with just 32 released in July, that seems less and less likely. As they head into year two of the partnership, there is very likely more at stake here than a simple numbers game.

As we look at the apps that are being released today, we can see they are trying to reuse pieces to make different kinds of apps directed at various verticals such as banking, government and industry. This is something Lopez thinks will help accelerate the growth of the partnership in the year ahead and speed up development cycles.

Baker thinks the partners need to raise the project’s profile, something a publicity-shy company like Apple has seemed reluctant to do.

“Accelerate the app development and make more noise about what they are doing. They went very high profile at the announcement and then changed to low profile and that invites speculation that the partnership is not working,” he said.

Apple and IBM have a unique opportunity here to change the way companies buy, sell and develop enterprise software. While the project seems to be going well, they can’t stop now. They have to forge ahead and let the world know what they’re doing.

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