The Apple IBM partnership is a big deal. Of course, I have the long view. My wife laughs at my long time horizon all the time.
In order to get a feel for why the announcement is such a big deal, two things are critical to understand:
- The way enterprises acquires, deploys, and supports technology (it’s like writing an app — it’s one thing to write it, another to do all the QA involved getting it into production)
- How bad most enterprise apps are to use (solving your problems, not your users) — and that attitude leaks into their consumer offerings (link to banking updates for iOS7)
The Enterprise Acquisition of Technology
The Enterprise AppleCare offering is huge in its own. It’s not like 200,000 GE employees can just walk into an Apple Genius Bar if they have a problem. Companies need to provide first-line support to their employees, including hardware service. They need to have a clear path to provision for new employees. They need to understand product roadmaps1.
Whatever these 100 apps they’re creating for verticals are… they won’t necessarily need to sell them to be successful. Big companies like IBM work on ELA’s (Enterprise License Agreements) for software. And while ELA’s are changing, they’re hardly going away for companies as big as IBM and Oracle. This means IBM can “sell” whatever software they choose to as part of big ELA renewals, and declare victory. It’ll drive the business… and Apple will benefit.
It’s also important to remember that it’s one thing to write an app, and a-whole-other thing to run the gauntlet of test-deploy. In many large companies for most of their projects, an afternoon of coding could lead to months of testing/QA and deployment scheduling2.
The Sad State of the Enterprise App Experience
I could write a million words on this alone. But, it’s Friday and if I do, it’ll upset me all weekend.
Enterprise apps, in large part, suck. Full stop.
It’s not because people are bad, or bad at what they do (though, you might suspect the apps could only be this bad if they purposely tried to make them so).
Enterprise apps serve many masters. Let’s take my favorite, expense reports.
Simply put, there are two users — the accountants and the travelers. The software is designed for the accountants to track expenses, not for the travelers who are doing the expense reports.
It’s naïve to think that an employee wasting 2 hours per expense report would justify spending money on improving the experience. You’d have to track the savings, justify the timeframe, realize that people fixing that problem are not doing something else, etc. Especially since most people who do their own expense reports probably do them on their own time at this point. And, I know people who don’t do small expense reports and eat the costs themselves because it’s such a hassle. Status quo is good for the enterprise3.
If IBM can deliver a mobile practice around solving a variety of user persona experiences… well, that’s what mobile is really about. Unbundling user experiences and then providing delightful apps for each.
By the way, it took both Fidelity and Bank of America a full year to update their single mobile banking apps to iOS 7. You know what that meant? They updated to iOS7 the week before iOS 8 was announced and everything changed again.
If the bank’s public apps, the ones trying to impress customers, are this behind and we know that enterprise UX has never been a priority what can we infer from enterprise mobile apps? And, since tablet apps are designed like PC browser apps, why not just use a PC?
What Does This Imply for The Opportunity?
Because Apple has some presence in the enterprise, its simply wrong to think they’ve cracked the enterprise to any fair measure.
And, to think that the state of mobile apps in the enterprise is anything like that which we experience in our consumer lives is fundamentally naïve.
The Important Things To Consider About the Apple IBM Partnership
- Mobile is a new / big thing; and as I’ve said before, Enterprise doesn’t understand it. This is a good strategy for IBM, and the Apple IBM partnership will give them credibility.
- It was interesting that they mentioned big data mining; that hints to me as a unique value proposition they’re going to try to leverage (machine learning, and all that mainframe-AI stuff they do)
- Remember Enterprise buying patterns – the enterprise can’t just walk into an Apple Genius Bar for support. This move is critical for Apple to penetrate the enterprise more. ALSO, remember the ELA. Most big software companies don’t actually sell, they run the compliance/ELA-renewal route. This is another big factor for IBM to do different business than Apple would.
- By the way, we know Apple has good penetration in the enterprise, but we all realize that it’s mostly the élite. IBM is a company that is supposedly neutral for employees, any employee can get a Mac exactly the same way they get a PC. Very very few companies are like that. IBM can help them (and it’s critical for the companies to do so, because young people want Macs).
- This is huge for Apple’s iPad, and therefore a huge opportunity for IBM. I mean, IBM runs a huge business on cash registers & kiosks – 2 places where tablets would be a much better solution than a PC. Yet, today, they do it all on PC. Same with enterprise apps. Using a Mac at at many large companies is impossible without Vmware, unless you don’t travel, use conference rooms, and so on4. There’s no way people could use a tablet and get their jobs done. Too hard. Same with iPhones – sure a lot works in the browser. Most people use them like fancy blackberries – email, calendar, address book… and whatever they can also do in a browser and whatever they can port over from their consumer use of technology.
- Finally, unless you’re a real nerd, there’s no way you’re using (for example) salesforce.com’s mobile app. It’s too broad reaching. Mobile is about unbundling experiences, and the experiences need to be targeted very specifically at their user stories. It’s simply impossible to do that broadly with a small number of apps (without adding so much complexity, that people simply yearn for their laptop’s big screen and mouse). It’s the Hotel Tonight vs Travel Portal example I like to use. No one would ever go to Concur in a browser on their phone or tablet to make a reservation. Unless they’re jammed up and have to. But, if I were looking for a hotel, I’d go to my phone first. There are a few things I use my phone for as my first choice (RSS reader, Twitter, controlling my stereo). That’s what IBM is going for. How do they make the phone/tablet the first computer people reach for? We (as Enterprise IT) need this. Imagine an enterprise app you’d rather use on your phone than your PC?
Not only is this huge, the timing is good. Tablets are accepted. Executives have brought them into the enterprise. There’s enough tension that it’s clear much more can be done, but no one has really figured it out yet. Wall Street won’t like it because it’s not going to add millions of phone/tablets per quarter next quarter. The end game though… the end game is beautiful. Imagine the iPad being a peer to a Windows desktop in the enterprise in a few years. Imagine SecureID instead of complicated passwords that you have to change all the time? Brilliant.
PS — Of course it depends on how they execute. If anyone can execute, it’s Tim Cook. And, IBM better be paying attention to HP (and how badly it’s failing)… IBM’s much bigger, so it’ll be slower to fail. But fail it will if they don’t do something meaningful.
- IBM won’t be able to help with hardware roadmaps, but they can buffer between IT and Apple in an interesting way by ball-parking future OS releases and having milestones around them, even though there’s uncertainty. It can “check off” future compatibility by saying “it’s IBM’s problem”. If it’s their own problem, they have to provide the answer to how they’ll do it… but they can’t if they don’t know what new features are coming, etc. [↩]
- It may not be 2 months of work, but if you can’t schedule deployment until after QA is complete… and then if you are scheduled, but a priority fix has to use your deployment window, you get bumped. And so on. [↩]
- Just because I’m a conspiracy theorist, doesn’t mean there’s not a conspiracy. [↩]
- Many of these systems have Microsoft back-ends that require IE. [↩]