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First Fruits of the IBM-Apple Alliance

The joint announcement by IBM and Apple this past summer that the two companies would collaborate on the development of business-focused apps for iOS devices was one of the biggest surprises of the year. It's not that the two weren't leaders in their respective fields, it's just that those fields were so far apart. Where Apple was renowned for crafting the ultimate in consumer user tech experience, IBM was the provider of big ideas and large-scale technologies for large enterprise.

Now five months after the alliance was announced, IBM and Apple delivered their first set of industry-specific enterprise apps for Apple iPhone and iPad that will integrate IBM's cloud services. While there is little ground-breaking technology in these announcements, the goal is to open up access to data buried in back end systems and apply real-time analytics to drive better decision making.

For the financial services industry there is Trusted Advice, an app that lets financial advisors review client portfolios on an iPad, test potential investment strategies and then place the orders to implement them. Retention is an app for insurance agents that will allow them to view client profiles, retention-risk scores, renewal dates and bind policies.

For airlines there is a Plan Flight app that will let pilots view schedules, flight plans, and crew manifests, and contact ground personnel during flight to report issues so that maintenance can be scheduled before the plane lands. For the flight crew, Passenger+ can provide personalized services to passengers, deliver baggage information, and rebook passengers in-flight if they are going to miss a connection.

In the retail space there is a Sales Assist app that will allow sales associates to check customer profiles, purchase histories, check inventory and make product suggestions. There is even an Expert Tech app for telecom providers that will allow outside techs to use native iOS capabilities like FaceTime, location services and route-optimization capabilities to improve customer service and worker productivity.

As we noted, none of this is anything we haven't seen before, but IBM points out that the innovation comes from exposing corporate data and applying advanced analytics to drive better decision making. In each case the companies are talking about integrating mobile technologies in business processes for process improvement with real tangible benefits. IBM cited customers including Citi, Air Canada, and Sprint that collaborated on the development and gave high praise to Apple for its contributions.

According to Michael Gilfix, IBM's director for enterprise mobile, "We've learned a lot working with Apple on what really makes for a transformative enterprise app, and we're going to bring that insight to many different job roles across industries."

Through its acquisition of Fiberlink last year, IBM can also offer cloud-based enterprise mobility management as part of a fully integrated mobile initiative for enterprises. While this initial rollout was for 10 apps, the companies have promised to expand that to over 100 in the coming months.

Some have wondered if IBM's decision to partner exclusively with Apple will hinder the initiative, particularly now that Samsung is doubling down on its efforts to push Android devices into the enterprise. It's important to note that while Android's worldwide market share exceeds Apple's by about four-to-one, Apple still holds a commanding lead in the enterprise market.

As these are business-focused apps designed for particular business processes, I don't think BYOD is going be a big factor. Essentially these will be IT-driven mobile initiatives, with company-provided devices geared for specific tasks and justified with well-defined business cases. Apple may not think in those terms, but IBM certainly does.

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