BARCELONA, Spain — When Ashi Hoseini, manager of mobile solutions for Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), began talking to IBM about creating apps that might help the airline’s crews be more efficient, she got the kind of offer many techies can only dream about:
An offer to fly to Cupertino and work directly with Apple developers at the company’s headquarters.
A few days later, she and her team left with a new app SAS crews can use on iOS devices. (The app will be rolling out soon.)
“Our vision is to make life easier for our customers, in this case our employees,” she said. “This new app has the power of simplicity married with the power of analytics. And that was thanks to the design teams of IBM and Apple.”
Hoseini made her remarks this week at a panel hosted by IBM at the Mobile World Congress 2016 in Barcelona. And there are so many jarring things about the event that it’s hard to know how to begin listing them.
Apple and IBM announced a partnership around enterprise solutions back in July 2014. While Apple has seen its mobile gadgets — like the iPhone and iPad — used in the workplace by individuals who’ve purchase them, there has still remained the bigger challenge of getting large enterprises to adopt them on the kind of massive scale that might turn around the slumping sales of Apple’s tablet.
IBM is deep, deep in the enterprise. So while the partnership is entirely logical, it’s also still remarkable to see the historic rivals working shoulder to shoulder. Seeing IBM executives stand in front of a sign at MWC that reads “IBM MobileFirst for iOS” takes some adjustment.
Beyond that, the ultra-secretive Apple prefers to pretty much never talk about its inner workings. And more specifically, it officially avoids such mega trade shows, even if it looms large over them.
While there were no Apple execs in attendance at the IBM press conference, the IBM execs on the stage and their customers were more than happy to offer up details about how the partnership is working on the ground. And that, in turn, shows how hard Apple is working to educate and inspire the potential enterprise customers it’s so eager to bring into its customer fold.
The case of SAS seems to be pretty typical of the approach. IBM and Apple have created dedicated teams that work from the Apple campus, helping customers like SAS develop apps that meet their specific needs. While Apple has lots of developer outreach, teaching businesses to use enterprise apps is a far more complex proposition, because such apps likely have to plug into existing infrastructure and databases to work seamlessly.
In other words, these are not just two programmers building another photo sharing app.
In an interview, Phil Buckellew, vice president of enterprise mobile at IBM, said the teams meld Apple’s historic strength in design and IBM’s depth in analytics and data. “These mix of skills is really critical,” he said.
When Hoseini arrived in Cupertino, her team included not just IT people from SAS, but some pilots and cabin crew members, as well. During her time there, she said, Apple was relentless about its design-thinking approach, which starts with the people who will actually use the product. As such, Apple advises companies to bring the app’s actual users and developers to the boot camp.
The problem, from the SAS side, is that crews are under mounting pressure to turn flights around quickly after they arrive. This is putting more stress on employees, who are increasingly dealing with frustrated customers asking questions about arrivals and delays. With the app, Passenger Plus, those crews will have detailed information about airports, flights, and taxi times at their fingertips, which should help them answer questions more quickly and better manage the transition between arrival and departure.
Throughout the process, the SAS team emphasized the need for functionality and information. Hoseini said Apple’s and IBM’s teams helped find a balance between access to information and an app design that would be simple to use.
“We changed the dashboard to make it more informative,” she said. “We did that without losing the lean and clean look of the app.”
So far, the partnership between Apple and IBM has led to the creation of 100 enterprise apps. If that doesn’t sound like a huge number, remember that when these get rolled out at massive companies, they drive the need to buy large quantities of Apple gadgets and IBM data and consulting services.
IBM is clearly bullish on the partnership and is pushing it ahead with a strong embrace of Apple’s Swift programming language.
Buckellew said that Swift has become one of the world’s fastest-growing programming languages since Apple introduced it in 2014. Apple made Swift open-source in December, and he expects that to only accelerate its adoption in the coming years.
Indeed, IBM had several announcements at MWC this week about cloud-based services for Swift.
“Swift is making it easier for developers to build great apps,” Buckellew said. “And IBM is making it even easier to use Swift.”