What the Apple-IBM deal means for the CIO

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Last week, Apple and IBM announced a deal that was widely acknowledged as a brilliant move by Apple to enter into the enterprise space. The partnership allows IBM to bring mobility into the enterprise at a faster clip than the organic pace of Bring-Your-Own-Device, or BYOD, growth.

A report on Computerworld summed up the key details of the deal, noting that "IBM will sell the Apple devices; craft more than 100 industry-specific enterprise solutions that will include native apps; optimize its cloud services for iOS; package device supply, activation and management services; offer financing and leasing plans; and provide on-site support to customers."

On its part, Apple will handle telephone support with new AppleCare options that are specifically crafted for enterprises.

Mobile devices play

So what are the implications of the deal that the CIO--or even the CTO--should be concerned about? With the OS X left squarely out of the picture, the bottom-line about the deal is its wholesale focus on bringing mobile-centric iPad and iPhone devices into the enterprise.

On this front, the announcement does offer plenty of advantages for organizations already contemplating the widespread deployment of iOS devices. Certainly, it would be more palatable getting on-site support from IBM as opposed to having highly-paid IT staffers standing in the queue to get problems fixed.

Conversely, it is important to point out that enterprises that have already opted for another platform, or which have adopted an arms-length BYOD policy, would almost certainly receive no benefit from the partnership.

And while many have pointed to how the deal would impact BlackBerry--whose share price dipped in response to the deal--the main thrust of the Apple-IBM partnership does not actually offer anything to compete against the enterprise security that BlackBerry is renowned for.

Indeed, despite the fact that iOS security is generally regarded to be at the forefront of mobile security, the continued availability of jailbreaks and recent reports about hidden iOS services continue to poke holes into blanket arguments that the platform is completely secure.

Long term support

Ultimately, having IBM provide on-site service would assuage one crucial concern all enterprises face: Device obsolesce. After all, the rapid fire cadence of new smartphone and tablet releases makes it highly problematic for enterprises looking for a mobile platforms on which to center their strategic apps.

Rather than the latest features and smallest form factor, the enterprise demands longer lifecycles so that investments in accessories and training are maintained. Moreover, it is imperative that apps for mission-critical business functions do not have to be validated every 6 to 12 months as new devices are released, necessitating access to models which may no longer be available to consumers.

Though details are not known at this point, it is widely expected that IBM will keep a current stock of devices on this front. Similarly, Apple is expected to offer support for older versions of the iOS operating system. Observers will note the irony of Apple adopting a page from Microsoft's playbook pertaining to long-term support--which Google also recently emulated with its 5-year support for the Chrome OS.

When all is said and done, there is no question that the true genius of the partnership is how it transforms millions of "BYOD" iOS devices into a viable platform for hosting apps within the enterprise. It would be interesting to see how Google will respond to keep Android in the running. -Paul Mah (@paulmah)