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Partners: We Want In On IBM-Apple Deal

Apple and IBM announced a historic partnership yesterday afternoon that has potential to reshape the mobile enterprise space. As beneficial as the deal is on paper for both of the tech giants, their partners are concerned that no mention was made of the channel in the announcement. Will the offerings be made through the channel?

One day after Apple and IBM unveiled a historic partnership to push mobile solutions into the enterprise, solution providers working with the tech giants are seeking details on how -- or if-- they will be able to participate in the landmark deal.

The agreement, which is being billed as an exclusive partnership, signals enormous strides in the enterprise space for both companies as Apple mobile devices would be sold by IBM to business customers, backed with customized "built-for-business" applications.

While it is clear that IBM plans to involve an ecosystem of ISVs and developers to build applications for its new IBM MobileFirst for iOS platform, neither company has confirmed plans to offer sales and services opportunities for the offerings through channel partners.

Solution providers for both companies unanimously agree the partnership announced between Apple and IBM could have massive potential and is positive for both sides, but would also be extremely great news for their partners in the channel, which is why they hope to get a cut of the deal.

"I hope the goal for [Apple] is not to do this exclusively through IBM and cutout their business partners, who have been going to work for them year after year after year, but strange times. You never know," said Bob Venero, CEO of Future Tech, a Holbrook, N.Y.-based Apple and IBM partner, No. 266 on CRN's Solution Provider 500.

Apple has historically struggled to support enterprise customers, Venero said.

"As you look at Apple as a company, one of the challenges we've seen in the past with those guys is their ability to support the enterprise, especially through the channel. Hopefully this will be a very big opportunity to offset those challenges," Venero said.

Some IBM partners expressed confidence that the company will let them come to its Apple mobile party, particularly as the vendor works to deliver mobile solutions to the midmarket.

"We have not been contacted," said Dan Bivona, sales director for Vormittag Associates Inc. (VAI), a major IBM business partner. "I'm imagining that they are looking at the enterprise business partners. Of course there is always the concern they won't go through the channel, but what we've always found with IBM is they really do count on their partners. 80 to 90 percent of their product come through the channel for the mid-sized customer. Traditionally that is what IBM has done. Without a doubt they will announce they will go through the partnerships. That's really where they want to be."

NEXT: Why The Channel Is An Advantage


Through the partnership, IBM and Apple are teaming up to build the IBM MobileFirst for iOS where IBM will be selling Apple mobile devices and building over 100 enterprise-focused apps for iOS. IBM’s cloud service will also be customized for iOS the companies said in the statement.

’For the first time ever we’re putting IBM’s renowned big data analytics at iOS users’ fingertips, which opens up a large market opportunity for Apple,’ said Apple CEO Tim Cook in a statement. ’This is a radical step for enterprise and something that only Apple and IBM can deliver.’

Arlin Sorensen, CEO of HTG, an IBM partner, said leveraging channel partners will be critical to the success of the joint endeavor.

"I am a big believer in the channel is the right way to go to market. I would hope that this is a channel friendly partnership," Sorensen said. "I think, done well, this could make a significant difference to how Apple enters the marketplace. It depends on the channel play and how they leverage that. It's a big market place, and the channel is much closer to the end customer than the vendors are typically. It's easier to create targeted solutions and take advantage of those."

Venero believes leveraging its partners would work as an advantage for Apple to get a stronger foothold in the enterprises. He described IBM as "very partner friendly" while "Apple is hot and cold."

"What it'll mean is that it'll validate Apple in the enterprise space, tying it to IBM," he said. "It'll mean having a better discussion around Apple and the enterprise which has been very weak over the years, turning away from the mindset that Apple is a consumer device. How they are going to do it, has not been communicated. The one thing I would ask is that they take a look at the existing partners who have played with them well and bring them into the fold first, if they do open it up to the masses from the Apple reseller perspectives."

IBM says it will leverage third-party developers, including ISVs and other business partners, "to build custom solutions and applications."

"IBM is very committed to keeping our developers and partners," said an IBM spokesperson, who noted that the release of these offerings will come in October or November. IBM told CRN to expect further details in an announcement closer to the launch.

Apple declined to comment on channel plans.

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