What does IBM MobileFirst for iOS mean for channel partners?

The IBM MobileFirst for iOS component of the recently announced partnership between IBM and Apple promises to allow IBM partners to create mixed-platform mobile systems for customers.

The mushrooming cross-device culture evolving in the enterprise is good for solution providers. That's because the more pieces of a technology solution that need to be knit together, the more opportunity there is for partners. But what's in the recently announced exclusive partnership between IBM and Apple -- which includes building business-specific applications for Apple's iOS, among other initiatives -- for channel partners?

IBM's mobile strategy, called MobileFirst, is a software platform launched in 2013 to help customers streamline and accelerate mobile application adoption across devices and platforms. IBM MobileFirst for iOS, one of the components of the IBM/Apple deal, targets building more than 100 industry-specific applications (for retail, healthcare, banking, travel, transportation, telecommunications and insurance) that run on Apple iOS devices.

"The IBM consulting team is going to build solutions for corporate-owned scenarios in seven top industries exclusively on iOS," said Phil Buckellew, vice president for enterprise mobility at IBM.

The MobileFirst for iOS effort will be led and sold primarily by IBM Global Business Services consulting teams because, as Buckellew stated, every client's business is different and there's a need to tie in a client's unique business processes and integrate with their back-end systems.

On a case-by-case basis, however, IBM consultants may pull in regional partners as needed to help deliver those products to the market, he noted.

Apple partners make so little on hardware that having the IBM partners and direct teams sell the hardware isn't a big hit to their profitability.
Diane KrakoraCEO, PartnerPath

These applications will be built on the IBM MobileFirst for iOS platform, the name given to the software and services capabilities that form the back end for the applications. "That software and services back end will be fully available freely for our clients and partners to use to build solutions on as well," Buckellew said.

When can partners expect to get access to the software and services back end?

"Today, we have offerings where clients can take advantage and build native iOS capabilities on Bluemix or on our other leading platform like IBM's Worklight. We can support iOS with our management and security solution MaaS360 -- so they can get started today in all of those areas," Buckellew said.

As iOS 8 delivers additional capabilities, IBM will expand its support and functionality for those capabilities, he added. The goal is to provide tighter links between new or expanded capabilities in iOS 8. He cited an example: Apple's Core Data data management framework. IBM will leverage Core Data to provide tighter linkage to Core Data capabilities expanded in iOS 8 to make sure they sync easily with IBM's cloud storage capability. Some other areas of tighter integration to the enterprise include back-end systems, workflows, embedded analytics and security management, for example.

"That's an example of how we're working to ensure that our back-end support is the best back end that can be made available for developers who are building solutions on iOS," he said, adding that IBM plans on working with all of its partners to enable them to build solutions and applications themselves.

Buckellew noted that many IBM partners are deep experts in their clients' businesses.

"These partners will be ideal candidates to build native iOS applications that we think can be supported very easily with our back-end software stack. This is a great value proposition to help clients solve the myriad of business processes they have," he said.

The partnership is good news to IBM partners, as they can create mixed platform solutions for customers, said Diane Krakora, CEO of PartnerPath. "They can offer a wider range of options to their customers -- providing a full solution that meets the goals and outcomes of their end users," she said.

It's also good news for Apple partners because there will be more Apple products in corporate environments and more opportunities for consulting on services around security, backup, etc. "Apple partners make so little on hardware that having the IBM partners and direct teams sell the hardware isn't a big hit to their profitability," Krakora said.

An Apple spokesman declined to comment as to whether the partnership offers any opportunity for Apple channel partners, in particular, Apple's large systems integrators.

According to Apple, iOS 8, its biggest iOS release ever for developers, is slated to ship this fall.

IBM stated that its industry-specific apps for iOS will begin rolling out this fall and will continue into 2015.

Buckellew stressed that IBM is committed to build and develop capabilities in its MobileFirst cross-platform for building Web apps, hybrid apps or native apps for integration in the enterprise -- a big opportunity for partners doing business-to-consumer and BYOD work, he noted.

In addition to the industry-specific applications, the IBM/Apple partnership also lays out plans for extending AppleCare for the Enterprise so that IBM teams can do on-site repairs, etc.; the reselling of iPhones and iPads by IBM; and the introduction of IBM MobileFirst Supply and Management for devices, activation and management services with leasing options.

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