The Apple-IBM pact: ‘We have shifted the curve’
By Karamjit Singh March 15, 2016
- IBM believes partnership with Apple is changing how work is done
- Intersection between device capability and analytics proving to be powerful
“SOMETIMES I wonder if I had too much Kool-Aid in Cupertino,” muses Katharyn White, IBM Corp’s global lead in its exclusive partnership with Apple Inc, IBM MobileFirst for iOS, first announced in July 2014.
That alliance has the goal of nothing less than changing change the way work is done through a new class of native enterprise apps built exclusively on Apple’s iOS platform, she notes, speaking to Asia Pacific media in a recent briefing in New York.
While that is the intent, today, 15 months after the first app went live in December 2014 and with “over US$1 billion in revenue,” White speaks with the conviction and belief of someone who is seeing this statement come alive.
Actually, some customers did even not wait for any app to start swinging into action. “I have seen cheering and clapping executives at the end of the three-day design workshops that kicked off the process of developing these apps,” she claims.
And yes, the launchpad for any app built for a customer is a three-day design workshop held at Apple’s Cupertino headquarters, with executives from Apple, IBM and the customer involved in coming up with the work requirements the app is intended to solve.
“We can shift the curve … we have shifted the curve,” she declares with a conviction that comes from seeing over 100 apps custom-built, covering 65 job roles (sales is an example of a role) across 14 industries such as financial, airlines and retail.
The strong take-up among customers has proven the premises upon which the partnership between Apple and IBM was formed in the first place:
- That they were both under-serving the enterprise in terms of mobile transformation;
- That the intersection between device capability (iPhone and iPad) and analytics could produce a powerful outcome for customers; and
- That this can be pulled off only if IBM and Apple were doing it together.
Industry understanding + design obsession
This joint approach has proven powerful as it marries Apple’s obsession with design and user experience together with IBM’s depth of industry understanding and analytics – which is why White says that the partnership has been “very successful in any way you can imagine.”
The success is not just down to the two partners but to the third leg in this partnership, the customer. And the customer must have a compelling ‘use case,’ meaning a specific work role that it wants to improve on.
What’s really interesting here is that because they are about creating a different category of app that changes the way you work, White says IBM won’t build one if it does not pass four criteria.
The first criterion is that it solves a problem that matters to the customer. There are three components here that tell IBM if the client has a really good use case: It reduces cost; it changes the moment of interaction between the user of the app and the customer; and “it takes out variability,” says White.
For the last, she gives the example of the sales function: “In most organisations around the world, 80% of your sales leads come from 20% of the sales team. That’s crazy. But we can solve that.”
White sees IBM MobileFirst for iOS as being able to systematise the knowledge of the best staff so that the new employees of a company are just as effective as its experts.
The second criterion is that the app must take advantage of a feature in the phone or tablet – that is, GPS (global positioning system), camera, accelerometer, fingerprint reader, etc.
The third criterion is that the app has to be powered by analytics, which means, it gets better every time it is used – for example, offering predictive maintenance.
Finally, the app must empower the employee who is then able to deliver a better experience for his or her customer.
White, who flies around the world meeting companies, declares she has not met one yet that is doing it the way IBM and Apple are.
Integration the key
What makes an app powerful under the alliance is that it can serve up enterprise data in a way that is consumable to the user. And while enterprise data usually sits on different systems, APIs (application programming interfaces) are used to extract the relevant data into the app.
Implementation can be as short as six weeks “and that is a powerful business case,” says White, who points out that 70% of the apps are ready with a preset blueprint of defined elements and questions to integrate, and with the final 30% being the specific requirements of the job.
“This 30% is what makes the app unique to each company. It has their data, their analytics, their customers, their logos, and their customisation,” she adds.
White stresses that the app is not standalone and cannot exist without enterprise integration with the back-end.
“The app does not have any value without being able to pull from your data,” she adds.
It’s in the team
This is where the three-day design sessions that kick off every new app development is critical, with the client having undue power in these sessions. Because of this, the composition of the client’s team is absolutely critical, argues White.
“We don’t want a manager – the guy who thinks he knows it all,” she says. “But the worst case is the business analyst from IT who thinks he knows the user requirements.”
Having gone through over 100 of these design sessions, IBM typically advises clients to bring teams composed of new hires, a subject matter expert of the job role, and the most important – the “constructive antagonist,” as White puts it.
“This is the person who asks the really tough questions but who, in his heart, wants this to be successful,” she says.
Having sat through the design sessions, White has seen firsthand the impact in challenging the way people think about their work.
“These sessions completely reimagine their jobs, and employees involved in the specific job roles come out at the end with a design of an app that they absolutely believe in their heart and head that will change their job,” she says.
This gives White the confidence to say that IBM MobileFirst for iOS is not about an app or about mobility, but is about changing work, “and with that, we have no limit to our aspiration.”
Karamjit Singh reports from New York at the invitation of IBM. All editorials are independent.
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