What's next for government enterprise mobility

The partnership between Apple and IBM may help overcome traditional barriers to deploying mobile enterprise solutions in the government space: security and long development cycles.

Apple’s growing role in the enterprise may further expand in the coming months in light of the company’s recent alliance with IBM.

That’s the view of industry executives and analysts who believe IBM could give Apple a software development and marketing boost in the government space. They cited the partnership, announced last month, as a potential win-win for both companies: IBM gets access to the consumer technology it lacks, while Apple can leverage IBM’s experience in enterprise solutions.

The Apple-IBM partnership calls for the companies to jointly create business apps that target specific industries. More than 100 apps are expected to be released, with the first offerings arriving this fall. IBM will also sell iPhones and iPads, bundled with industry-specific solutions, to its customers around the world.

“Apple is being very aggressive in the federal market,” said Gary Labovich, executive vice president with Booz Allen Hamilton. “This [IBM alliance] is probably their biggest splash so far.”

Greg Eoyang, president and chief executive officer of daVinci, the mobile development subsidiary of Intelligent Decisions, said the Apple and IBM arrangement could prove to be a big deal – depending on their level of investment.

“On the surface [the partners] have everything they need to do to bridge that gap,” Eoyang said. “If they are really committed to it, they have the length and strength to do whatever they want.”

Apple has already made significant inroads among enterprise accounts, including public sector customers. Earlier, this year the Wall Street Journal, citing Forrester Research data, noted that Apple corralled about 8 percent of the global business and government spend on computers and tablets during 2012. That slice is expected to grow to 11 percent by 2015, according to Forrester, a considerable expansion considering Apple could only point to a 1 percent share of enterprise and government sector spending as recently as 2009. 

Apple’s smartphone business, meanwhile, continues to grow. Juniper Research reported that Apple shipped more than 35 million iPhones in the second quarter calendar quarter, an uptick of 13 percent year over year. Juniper Research called that performance the company’s “best ever” for the second quarter.

Development deal

Apple and IBM are often seen as polar opposites, but the companies have worked together in the past. In the early 1990s, Apple, IBM and Motorola collaborated on the PowerPC processor used in the Macs of that era. The alliance persisted until 2006 when Apple switched to Intel chips.

The most recent partnership, of course, has an entirely different focus: smartphones, tablets and mobile apps. Here are a few of the planned initiatives:

The companies will jointly create IBM MobileFirst for iOS Solutions, business apps that target specific industries.

IBM will sell iPhones and iPads, bundled with the industry-specific solutions, to its customers around the world.

The companies also plan to deliver the IBM MobileFirst Platform for iOS, a set of services that will include analytics, workflow, cloud storage, device management, security and integration.

Shawn McCarthy, research director at IDC Government Insights, said the immediate impact of the Apple-IBM alliance will be noticeable, but not huge.

“It’s good news because IBM has a huge presence in the government space, and iPad is a popular tablet choice for government mobile workers,” he said. The software development aspect of the partnership will unfold over time. “The real proof will come later, as we see what is developed.”  

The Apple-IBM combo may also help overcome traditional barriers to deploying mobile enterprise solutions in the government space: security concerns and lengthy development cycles, according to Eoyang, who suggested that IBM’s seal of approval on a mobility solution will mitigate the risk in the security realm.

As for time-to-market, IBM could enlist its Worklight mobile application development platform to shorten development time, he said.  Worklight provides an underlying infrastructure that developers can configure to enable mobile solution features such as single sign-on. The development tool “makes people feel like they don’t have to develop all of it from scratch,” Eoyang said.

Enterprise ambitions

IBM’s experience with back-end systems and business processes could also help propel Apple’s enterprise business “What also is needed is the whole enterprise data flow which feeds into an agency’s business process, and that is what IBM brings to the table,” McCarthy said.

Labovich said he also sees a big demand among government agencies for mobile applications that can access and analyze data from a range of sources, including legacy applications. IBM, he said, is in most of the IT shops across government from a back-end systems perspective and also contributes analytics horsepower to the alliance.

Tim Hoechst, chief technology officer at Agilex, a Chantilly, Va., solutions provider that has worked with Apple in the mobility arena for about six years, said the IBM alliance could also affect on how quickly the company adds enterprise features to its operating systems.

He said Apple has been doing a good job of incrementally adding enterprise capabilities to each new release of iOS. The tempo of improvements is a “steady drumbeat,” said Hoechst, who pondered whether IBM’s involvement would quicken the pace. “Does this light a fire under them?” he asked.

In any event, Hoechst said he thinks Apple could increase its focus on the enterprise in light of the IBM alliance. “It might embolden government executives with the idea that Apple is going to start to take enterprise requirements even more seriously.”

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