IBM plus Apple: It's all about the apps

What will IBM on iOS look like? Phil Buckellew, vice president of IBM Enterprise Mobile, explains how IBM will deliver a new experience in enterprise applications

The deal announced yesterday between Apple and IBM set the industry on its ear. If you wanted the ultimate indication that the consumer and enterprise worlds have collided, there it was: Tim Cook and Ginni Rometty chatting amiably in front of the camera.

Everyone seems to agree that the deal is good for both companies. But on the IBM side, much of the success of the joint initiative hinges on the applications. IBM says it will be building "a new class of more than 100 industry-specific enterprise solutions" developed from the ground up for iPhone and iPad. But what will those apps be like?

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Well, you won't find them in the App Store. This morning I interviewed Phil Buckellew, vice president of IBM Enterprise Mobile, who was personally involved in the initial discussions between the two companies, and he made clear that IBM Global Business Services will be leading the charge. The IBM MobileFirst initiative for iOS is very much in line with the IBM tradition of leading with professional services and providing custom application development. Plus, several recent IBM acquisitions are essential to MobileFirst, including Cloudant, Fiberlink, SoftLayer, and Worklight.

IBM is initially targeting banking, insurance, telco, retail, government, travel, transportation, and health care. According to Buckellew, the apps will be "all about customization, because they have to integrate tightly with the company's back-end systems and they have to fit with what each company is doing. If each company is doing things differently to build competitive advantage, we have to do things that way to meet our customers' needs."

That said, Buckellew observes that IBM has assembled its own catalog of "starter apps" that should accelerate development by providing 60 to 80 percent of the capabilities and can be customized to particular use cases. "It gives a starting point for us to work much more quickly to deliver really compelling experiences," he says.

As Buckellew repeatedly noted, IBM is not talking about "simple, repurposed Web apps." The idea is to create native iOS applications that take full advantage of the device, including the accelerometer, the GPS, the camera, and the microphone. These will very much be native iOS applications -- written in Swift or Objective C to take full advantage of the device capabilities.

"For each one of these apps," says Buckellew, "we have a litmus test: It has to address an industry pain point, and it needs to be powered by analytics. That analytics part is really important, because that's what is going to take the application to the next level."

In enterprise applications, analytics is one area where IBM has truly excelled, not just through its Cognos acquisition back in 2008 but its big data efforts with InfoSphere BigInsights. According to Buckellew, the MobileFirst Platform for iOS will be based on IBM BlueMix, the PaaS (platform as a service) based on Cloud Foundry, currently hosted on the SoftLayer public cloud IBM acquired a year ago. "We've launched a number of analytics solutions on top of BlueMix, as well as workflow and cloud storage. Those pieces will be tied in as an integral part of the MobileFirst solutions we're building out. If these companies choose to run it on-premises, obviously we'll be able to support that as well."

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