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Apple and IBM announced a global partnership for “enterprise mobility” this week, but what does this truly mean for enterprises?

What can we expect to see in terms of real deliverables in the next 6-12 months? Let’s take a look at the four “core capabilities” the new partnership will address.

A new class of more than 100 industry-specific enterprise solutions

IBM is putting a stake in the ground — promising to build 100 new apps, including native apps developed exclusively from the ground up for iPhone and iPad. This is an awesome goal and will help get companies thinking more about employee enablement.

From a practical standpoint, Apple has made no secret that it wants developers to build fully “native” apps, that is, apps built specifically for iOS that take advantage of the unique iPhone and iPad features. But enterprises have shown increased interest in “cross platform” and HTML5 based solutions such as Appcelerator, Xamarin, and IBM’s own Worklight solution to leverage development budgets.

Apple has historically taken a dim view of apps created with “cross platform” solutions. The company believes that the user experience and performance are never quite as good as the “full native” solution that can be built with Apple’s Xcode.

So will IBM be fully supporting Xcode with its tools? Or perhaps using Apple’s new Swift programming language (which Apple announced at its WWDC event in June)? Or will IBM morph the Worklight solution or the IBM MobileFirst solution so that it’s set to be more iOS specific, and deviate from the cross-platform message? Time will tell. When we start to see the first set of “native apps” coming from IBM, it will be interesting to see what “native app” really means, but we are excited to see a focus on business and employee empowerment no matter how apps are built.

Unique IBM cloud services optimized for iOS

IBM has assembled a portfolio of solutions that provide mobile device management, app level security, and numerous analytics approaches for both apps and back end management. Their emphasis on the IBM Cloud Marketplace and the Bluemix development platform can support the iOS environment. What’s interesting is that the Fiberlink MDM technology IBM recently acquired will no doubt be a major component of this solution, but since many existing customers already have MDM from the likes of Mobile Iron or AirWatch, or use MAM from Apperian it is not clear they will want a “rip and replace” solution. IBM will need to figure out a cooperative strategy with existing infrastructure to make this successful.

New AppleCare service and support tailored to the enterprise

AppleCare for Enterprise is a great idea and will be warmly received by IT departments and their users. This may be one of the most critical – and potentially commercially successful – aspects of the partnership if executed well, as companies can take advantage of IBM’s highly rated on-site service backed up by the Apple 24×7 helpdesk. This is the safety blanket that an IT department will have no problem selling internally, and it could give both companies an edge over the fragmented Android hardware environments. More importantly, it’s a bulwark against the oncoming Microsoft mobile attack, since Microsoft has been a known quantity for years.

New packaged offerings for device activation, supply, and management

IBM will now become, in essence, a “master distributor” for iPhone and iPad hardware, which includes the ability to provide device activation and management. In the past, companies could only do bulk enrollment via direct purchase from Apple, which limited IT’s ability to roll out to employees. This is great news for IBM, since it can become the “single throat to choke” for device delivery, configuration, management, and support. IBM Global Financing can also add leasing and other options that provide flexibility in purchasing — something that Apple does not necessarily provide today.

This week’s announcement is a win for both Apple and IBM. The “halo effect” of having IBM’s blessing for Apple hardware and the iOS operating system will be a positive, and the unified front in supporting business efforts to deploy, manage, and support Apple devices will be welcome news to enterprises.

With the “100 apps” goal and the value highlighted in this partnership, companies will be more willing to invest in mobile projects to help employees. More challenging may be the delivery of apps and solutions under the “IBM MobileFirst” umbrella, which is a collection of acquisitions and technologies that are still being melded into a coherent offering.

The idea of “made for business” apps is appealing, but the reality is that larger organizations may need significant customization to make apps work. This is not bad news, since IBM has a strong consulting organization in IBM Global Business Services, but then IBM will be competing in a multi-platform, multi-back end world that is definitely not Apple-only.

Cimarron Buser leads Apperian’s global business development efforts, establishing and supporting partnerships, working with leading ISV and OEM partners, and finding new routes to reach customers. He has worked in technology companies for many years, providing creative and visionary leadership for products and services in the digital publishing, web and mobile arena.

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