What IBM-Apple Partnership Really Means for Businesses

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Apple and IBM have joined forces to bring Big Blue’s core competencies in big data and analytics to Apple’s iPhone and iPad. The exclusive agreement will result in a new class of more than 100 industry-specific enterprise solutions, including native apps developed from the ground up for banking, healthcare, insurance and other markets.

IBM MobileFirst for iOS Solutions, the name for the partners’ products, for vertical businesses will become available starting this fall and into 2015, the companies said. The apps will be developed exclusively for iPhone and iPad and feature IBM cloud services optimized for iOS, including device management, security, analytics and mobile integration.

Why are the tech behemoths burying the proverbial hatchet to jointly pursue the fast-growing enterprise mobile market? Alex Bakker, research analyst for Saugatuck Technology, says there are a few reasons. Although Apple already has significant inroads in the Fortune 500, it does not have an enterprise salesforce. And, IBM needs to demonstrate a strong focus on enterprise mobility. It is a services organization and sees iOS as the most mature, enterprise-ready mobile platform to build services around.

The partnership could significantly change several industry segments.


IBM’s initiative with Apple will bring about a new set of applications bank employees can use on the go. But the real value, especially for large banks, may be the integration services that will come out of this collaboration, to build a bridge between the legacy software banks rely on and the iPhones and iPads that employees want to use. (And need to use, if they are to compete with tech-savvy competitors that already have iPad-bearing bankers roaming their branches.)

Most large banks already use IBM software and hardware throughout the organization, points out David Potterton, research director at Cornerstone Advisors. And many offer some level of support for employees’ use of iPhones and iPads. (Small banks might not care about the Apple-IBM deal, because they tend to use core and workplace systems from providers such as Fiserv, FIS and Microsoft that build their own mobile extensions of their software. However, IBM does plan to build applications specifically for them.)

Making existing mainframe applications usable on iPads could solve problems for many banks, Potterton says. Staff who need to interact with customers face to face, such as small business bankers, wealth advisors and mortgage lenders, could have all the apps they need in their hand.

“That’s going to be a nice marriage, when you can bring more of the applications that are right now stuck on mainframe, legacy applications out where people can use them remotely,” Potterton says. “That’s where people have been stuck.”

IBM is also providing services, such as support, security and backup, to cover Apple devices used within a company.

“It’s a good crossover because you’ve got IBM, which is known and trusted for security, cloud, and the business practices they bring, and you marry that with Apple’s more cutting edge [technology],” Potterton says. “I think it takes a worry point off. Banks know IBM, they’ve been on it forever, and they may not be as comfortable with some of the [mobile operating systems], especially around security. I think this is going to give people better piece of mind.”

IBM plans to launch a set of about 100 new “IBM MobileFirst for iOS” applications starting in September that will address “industry pain points.” These will be based on the MobileFirst app series IBM debuted earlier this year, but built for Apple’s operating system to take advantage of its native capabilities. The MobileFirst platform is also meant to provide security, backup, control of data movement and integration for these apps.

One of the first apps in this series lets a flight attendant rebook people on a plane. Another is for “saving the sale” in the retail industry: if a customer’s been shopping in a store for a while, the app might prompt a salesperson to go help him, armed with knowledge of that customer’s size and the type of pants they like.

“The ultimate objective is to help with an industry pain point to enable better customer experiences, improved productivity, and increased revenue opportunities, as well as empower employees,” says Saul Berman, global chief strategist for IBM Global Business Services.

At least one of the new apps to be released in September will be specifically created for banks, Berman says.

“In banking, we’re thinking about, where do these ideas apply?” Berman says. One idea under discussion is a wealth management app. “We think there’s a lot of information that could be brought to the point of contact and shared with different parts of the organization, to help an adviser gather information for a customer,” he says, and load it on his tablet for use during customer meetings. [ANZ Bank already uses IBM’s Watson technology for the same purpose.]

Another idea IBM and Apple are considering, Berman says, is a small business banking app that could help a banker and small business owner interact.

“We’re in the early stages, but we are looking at the pain points in this industry and trying to find ways to improve the customer experience by being able to do things in real time, in front of the customer, and being able to empower employees with information and enhance productivity,” he says.

IBM will extend some existing technology to the new Apple program. For instance, its Maas360 mobile device management software could be brought in to manage an organization’s mobile devices and apps. Its security apps, such as Trusteer, could be used to secure devices and apps in the initiative. The program also includes an AppleCare component in which IBM geeks will take the role of Apple Geniuses within banks and other companies, handling all service, repair and troubleshooting.

“We’ll bring in whatever fits and create the right platforms for clients, working with clients to tailor these apps to their needs,” Berman says.

This initiative could give IBM and Apple an advantage over Microsoft and Google in the enterprise mobility market.

“This is definitely a shot across the bow of both Microsoft and Google, and a smart partnership in my opinion,” says Sam Maule, consulting manager at Carlisle and Gallagher Consulting Group. “We’ve come a long way from Steve Job’s and Apple’s infamous 1984 inspired commercial directed at IBM. And in this day and age I believe Steve would approve.” 

The two companies could help banks address privacy and regulatory concerns, for example. And come up with interesting new apps. “Imagine the simplification of the interface Apple can provide with the data analytics and security components IBM can provide,” Maule says. “Blend the ‘ease of use’ of iOS and enterprise developers with IBM’s Bluemix [IBM’s cloud architecture] and you have a powerful mix.”


IBM is gaining access to Apple's iPhone and iPad, which have set the standard for other mobile devices in the healthcare industry in particular.

Doctors simply love their iPhones and iPads and are the products of choice for clinicians. As competition in the mobile healthcare market continues to heat up, the Cupertino, Calif.-based company remains the reigning mHealth champion with more healthcare providers using Apple than any other device.

In fact, it can be argued that Apple started the mobile healthcare revolution with the launch of the iPad. And, its smaller and lighter cousin--the iPad Mini released in November 2012—has the size, form factor and convenience of fitting into a physician’s lab coat pocket.

Kate Borten, president of The Marblehead Group health information security consulting firm, likes the alliance but it will bring security concerns to some degree. “We know physicians have been early adopters of iPads (and iPhones). iPads have been touted as enhancing the doctor-patient interaction, for example, by showing patients what's happening to them. Bringing big data analytics to Apple devices will strengthen Apple's presence in healthcare among physicians and researchers. But healthcare IT organizations trying to manage smart phones will find it increasingly difficult to avoid supporting iOS devices along with more traditionally secure platforms.”

Healthcare CIOs like Apple as a company, but many have been uncomfortable using its mobile products because of issues with how data is presented, and have had to engage other vendors to make the information more presentable, notes Michael Mytych, principal at Health Information Consulting in Menomonee Falls, Wis. Bringing Apple’s functionality and value that consumers enjoy to healthcare professionals is good news, but he cautions that security and enterprise team supportability will be among the keys to success. That said, Mytych believes there is no doubt that the IBM/Apple alliance has expandability options in healthcare, but he doesn’t see the use of analytics on Apple devices being a game-changer. A lot will depend on how the services are priced for the healthcare industry.

The pairing of two iconic technology giants has promise, says George Hickman, CIO at Albany Medical Center in New York. “In concept the Apple/IBM deal sounds like a great opportunity to synergize. Apple has heretofore shown a bias to consumer devices, making enterprise deployment a challenge, an area where IBM has been solid for decades. Apple’s agility can provide cultural gains to the marriage however, and the venture offers the promise of aligning big computing with mobile device end uses.”

Currently there are more than 43,000 healthcare apps available for download on the Apple iTunes app store. However, the vast majority of these apps are targeted to consumers and have limited use and simple functionality, with most doing little more than providing information. The new IBM MobileFirst for iOS solutions will be tailored for the healthcare enterprise.

The worldwide mobile health market is estimated to reach $26 billion by 2017 with more than 3.4 billion people globally having smartphones or tablets with access to mobile health apps, according to Research2Guidance.


The IBM/Apple partnership will result in three insurance-specific mobile applications, including Mobile Sales Agent, Mobile Underwriter and Mobile Claims Adjustor, according to Karen Davis, director of external relations for IBM Global Business Services.

The timing of this is ideal for insurers. Agent and consumer demand are contributing to a new sense of urgency to embrace mobile apps. A few personal lines insurers are well on their way, especially in claims. Esurance, GEICO and USAA are just some of the insurers currently providing their customers, agents and adjusters with robust mobile applications available on iPads and iPhones.

Esurance, a direct-to-consumer personal insurance company, announced a new mobile feature that it’s calling an industry first: video appraisal, which enables consumers to video chat in real-time with an Esurance appraiser to get their claim estimates immediately.

For insurers, the connection with apps and their legacy core systems and mobile strategies are areas of concern. “Many insurers are struggling with mobile strategy and the IBM/Apple partnership should be of interest to those seeking solutions in their 2015 budget planning,” says Tom Benton, a principal in the insurance practice at Novarica. “Apple devices have already established a solid place in BYOD for insurer internal staff and external agents, so IBM and Apple may need to convince CIOs to rethink their mobile app, device management and security strategies and invest in their solutions. Company ownership and control of tablets and phones, while more of a reality through IBM’s addition of enterprise-level capabilities, will be a paradigm shift for most insurer and other corporate IT organizations.”

Benton’s colleague, Chad Hersh, managing director at Novarica, agrees that a rethink is needed. Before taking on apps, core-systems replacements are necessary. “As Apple would say, insurers need to ‘think different,’ and consider ways in which their new core systems can support different processes, products and more, such as video appraisals.”

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