Apple and IBM team up to go after the enterprise together

IBM and Apple have announced an industry-disrupting partnership  to go after the enterprise. This is a direct shot across the bows of Microsoft, Google, and others who might have hoped to make inroads into the expanding demand for enterprise mobile solutions.

As the Apple press release puts it, the two companies are forming this exclusive partnership

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:

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

Apparently, Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM, and Apple’s Tim Cook have met several times over the past months, according to Arik Hesseldahl or Re/code, who quotes Cook as saying,

If you were building a puzzle, they [the two companies]would fit nicely together as puzzle pieces with no overlap. When you put our teams in the room together, we both have engineering cultures, so they feed off of one another. And when you do that you end up with something better than either of you could produce yourself.

It’s a strange turn of events to see little overlap in the two companies offerings, since IBM was the motive force behind the rise of the desktop PC. But IBM exited that business years ago, selling it’s PC business to Lenovo, now one of the largest PC manufacturers. And unlike Microsoft — whose fortunes can be tied fairly conclusively to a contract from IBM to build what became MS-DOS — IBM has avoided the mobile device world, and sells nothing directly to consumers these days, at all.

The real allure of this pairing for business customers is simple. Apple has the best mobile devices, and they are selling well to enterprise customers, but most enterprises want a trusted integrator and enterprise software house to pull together a top-to-bottom enterprise solution that surrounds the devices and their use, so that they can have a turn-key approach to workforce deployment, management, and controls.

This is going to be a real blow against Google’s efforts to position Android in the marketplace, which has been struggling because of perceived security issues.

IBM’s MobileFirst — an initiative to adapt enterprise apps for mobile devices — is now being extended for iOS: MobileFirst for iOS, and IBM will be selling iOS devices directly to its customers. It seems like IBM is taking on the integration and sales side of the partnership, while Apple will be mostly in a design and support role.

Apple’s share of the business smartphone market is 80% or more, according to Cook, and iPad is more than 70%. This announcement is going to increase that percentage and absolute sales numbers, because IBM will have huge incentives to eliminate objections and barriers to Apple adoption in the workplace.

While this partnership is about iOS devices, I can’t help but wonder: will IBM be selling Macs into the enterprise next?

Also on Gigaom, see Barb Darrow’s BYOD worries drove Apple-IBM deal — and a huge win for Apple