The big news this week of Apple and IBM joining forces to dominate the mobile enterprise market makes a great story - at least on the surface.
It's an odd-couple tale of a blue jeans-clad Silicon Valley creator of the coolest mobile consumer devices on the planet marrying a suit-and-tie tech giant from New York with multi-billion-dollar investments in cloud services and business-to-business relationships with the world's biggest companies. They plan to make more than a hundred offspring starting this fall: exclusive mobile apps serving vertical industries.
But strip away the veneer, and this marriage leaves a serious question. In announcing the partnership, Apple and IBM didn't address the Number 1 issue with iPhones and iPads in the enterprise: security and management.
For the last few years, CIOs have faced the onslaught of iPhones and iPads on their corporate networks. These new-fangled devices covertly made their way into companies via the pockets and purses of top executives and, later, en masse through the back door. Today, the on-again-off-again love affair with the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trend has turned consumer tech in the enterprise into a revolving door.
Part of the problem is that securing and managing iPhones and iPads, as well as the data that flows through them, has proved to be a huge challenge for IT. When CIOs looked desperately to a Steve Jobs-led Apple for help, they received the cold shoulder. The response from Apple seemed to be: "It's not our problem. Deal with it."
Third-party mobile device management (MDM) vendors rushed to fill the void, and the MDM market turned red-hot with premium-priced acquisitions and initial public offerings. VMWare bought AirWatch for $1.54 billion in January. MobileIron raised $100 million going public in June. Even IBM got in the game, acquiring Fiberlink and its MDM solution MaaS360 late last year.
Google's Android also rode Apple iOS's coattails into the enterprise. At the Google I/O event last month, Google took the reins of the mobile security problem in the enterprise by announcing plans to add secure container technology - similar to Samsung's Knox - deeply into open-source Android. It's a critical point, because device management and security really need to be done at the operating system level.
Nevertheless, MDM vendors and Android will likely suffer at the hands of the Apple-IBM juggernaut.
"While this partnership is great news for corporate America, it isn't for MDM vendors such as the recently public MobileIron and the potentially public Good Technology, who now face even tougher competition, as IBM has its own MDM offering with MaaS360," says Yaacov Cohen, co-founder and CEO at Harmon.ie, a developer of enterprise mobile collaboration software. "This move relegates Google and Android to a distant second in the enterprise market, if not even third after the Windows Phone. After Samsung's drop of Knox last week, it has been a tough month for enterprise Android."
In terms of security and manageability, however, Apple's iOS still presents a major challenge for CIOs. It's only going to get worse, too, as IBM's vaunted salesforce taps long-standing business relationships to push iPhones and iPads. The problem is that iOS is a closed system tightly guarded by the powers in charge at Cupertino. Third-party MDM vendors don't have real access to iPhones and iPads.
Apple's indifference to the enterprise also meant that Apple didn't develop an enterprise-level management platform for iOS on par with BlackBerry Enterprise Server from RIM.
Hence, management and security challenges with iPhones and iPads remain. CIOs have had little choice but to enact strict policies and put limitations on the user experience on BYOD iPhones and iPads to contain the problem, which, in turn, upset employees. This has stymied BYOD programmes at many companies. Some CIOs won't have anything to do with BYOD.
Unfortunately, Apple's new partnership with IBM didn't address this underlying concern.
"Apple does not like to relinquish control of their device management at the OS level, which is why so many BYOD programs are rejected by the users," says a technology executive at a large investment firm, speaking on condition of anonymity. "The only way you can create a secure enterprise-ready environment for iOS devices is to provide the same level of granular control that BlackBerry offers. That means Apple would have to allow IBM's MaaS360 to get its hooks into iOS."
Will Apple open up iOS to IBM? That's a question left unanswered.