The agreement Apple and IBM made earlier this week to join forces on iPhone and iPad apps and services for businesses will result in offerings specifically targeted at banking, healthcare and insurance markets.
IBM MobileFirst for iOS Solutions, the name for the partners' products, will become available starting this fall and into 2015, the companies said, and come with IBM cloud services optimized for iOS, including device management, security, analytics and mobile integration.
Why are the tech behemoths burying the proverbial hatchet to jointly pursue the fast-growing enterprise mobile market? Alex Bakker, research analyst for Saugatuck Technology, says there are a few reasons. Although Apple already has significant inroads in the Fortune 500, it does not have an enterprise salesforce. And IBM needs to demonstrate a strong focus on enterprise mobility. It is a services organization and sees iOS as the most mature, enterprise-ready mobile platform to build services around.
Early insights and predictions from industry observers offer a glimpse of how the partnership is likely to take shape within specific industry segments.
The IBM/Apple partnership will result in three insurance-specific mobile applications: Mobile Sales Agent, Mobile Underwriter and Mobile Claims Adjustor, according to Karen Davis, director of external relations for IBM Global Business Services.
The timing of this is ideal for insurers. Agent and consumer demand are contributing to a new sense of urgency to embrace mobile apps. A few personal lines insurers are well on their way, especially in claims. Esurance, GEICO and USAA are just some of the insurers currently providing their customers, agents and adjusters with robust mobile applications available on iPads and iPhones.
For insurers, the connection with apps and their legacy core systems and mobile strategies are areas of concern. "Many insurers are struggling with mobile strategy and the IBM/Apple partnership should be of interest to those seeking solutions in their 2015 budget planning," says Tom Benton, a principal in the insurance practice at Novarica. "Apple devices have already established a solid place in BYOD for insurer internal staff and external agents, so IBM and Apple may need to convince CIOs to rethink their mobile app, device management and security strategies and invest in their solutions. Company ownership and control of tablets and phones, while more of a reality through IBM's addition of enterprise-level capabilities, will be a paradigm shift for most insurer and other corporate IT organizations."
Benton's colleague, Chad Hersh, managing director at Novarica, agrees that a rethink is needed. Before taking on apps, core-systems replacements are necessary. "As Apple would say, insurers need to 'think different,' and consider ways in which their new core systems can support different processes, products and more, such as video appraisals."
Doctors love their iPhones and iPads. More healthcare providers use Apple than any other device.
In fact, it can be argued that Apple started the mobile healthcare revolution with the launch of the iPad. And its smaller and lighter cousin the iPad Mini released in November 2012 has the size and form factor to fit in a physician's lab coat pocket.
Kate Borten, president of The Marblehead Group health information security consulting firm, likes the alliance but thinks it will bring security concerns. "We know physicians have been early adopters of iPads (and iPhones). iPads have been touted as enhancing the doctor-patient interaction, for example, by showing patients what's happening to them. Bringing big data analytics to Apple devices will strengthen Apple's presence in healthcare among physicians and researchers. But healthcare IT organizations trying to manage smart phones will find it increasingly difficult to avoid supporting iOS devices along with more traditionally secure platforms."
Healthcare CIOs like Apple as a company, but many have been uncomfortable using its mobile products because of issues with how data is presented, and have had to engage other vendors to make the information more presentable, notes Michael Mytych, principal at Health Information Consulting in Menomonee Falls, Wis. Bringing Apple's functionality to healthcare professionals is good news, but he cautions that security and enterprise team supportability will be among the keys to success. That said, Mytych believes a lot will depend on how the services are priced for the healthcare industry.
The pairing of two iconic technology giants has promise, says George Hickman, CIO at Albany Medical Center in New York. "In concept, the Apple/IBM deal sounds like a great opportunity to synergize. Apple has heretofore shown a bias to consumer devices, making enterprise deployment a challenge, an area where IBM has been solid for decades. Apple's agility can provide cultural gains to the marriage, however, and the venture offers the promise of aligning big computing with mobile device end uses.
The real value of this partnership, especially for large banks, may be the integration services that will come out of this collaboration that will allow legacy systems written in old code, like Assembler or COBOL, to run on the iPhones and iPads that many employees prefer to use.
Most large banks already use IBM software and hardware throughout the organization, points out David Potterton, research director at Cornerstone Advisors. And many offer some level of support for employees' use of iPhones and iPads.
Making existing mainframe applications usable on iPads could help banks bring mobility to old technology. For instance, a bank running on a mainframe-based core banking system could use the IBM tools and services to deliver an app for "universal tellers" in the branch, one that could draw from the transaction data stored in the core. Without such a "bridge," so to speak, it would be extremely difficult to build iPad apps that work with the core.
"That's going to be a nice marriage, when you can bring more of the applications that are right now stuck on mainframe, legacy applications out where people can use them remotely," Potterton says. "That's where people have been stuck."
Small banks might not care about the Apple-IBM deal because they tend to use core and workplace systems from providers such as Fiserv, FIS and Microsoft that build their own mobile extensions of their software. However, IBM does plan to build applications specifically for them.
At least one of the new apps to be released in September will be specifically created for banks, says Saul Berman, global chief strategist for IBM Global Business Services.
"In banking, we're thinking about, 'where do these ideas apply?'" Berman says. One idea under discussion is a wealth management app that would help financial advisors collect the information they need to come up with financial strategies for their clients.
"We think there's a lot of information that could be brought to the point of contact and shared with different parts of the organization, to help an advisor gather information for a customer," he says. ANZ Bank already uses IBM's Watson technology for a similar purpose. While an ANZ advisor is chatting with a client, Watson pulls all the documents and data needed to assess that customer's financial situation.
Another idea IBM and Apple are considering, Berman says, is developing a small-business banking app that could help a banker and small business owner interact. For instance, a small business owner looking for a loan might push updates on his company's financials to his banker through the app.