Partners Deflated By Limited Channel Opportunities In Apple-IBM Deal

A blockbuster partnership between Apple and IBM to drive iPads, iPhones and Big Blue iOS apps deep into the heart of enterprise will leave many partners shut out from potentially lucrative new channel opportunities, partners say.

Solution providers initially excited about the partnership, which will see IBM build over 100 industry-specific apps for iOS gear and resell Apple iPhones and iPads, have quickly become disillusioned as IBM has confirmed more details on how channel partners can -- and can't -- participate.

While IBM is touting the deal as a growth opportunity for solution providers who want to build enterprise apps for Apple devices on its MobileFirst Platform for iOS, solution providers will not be allowed to resell any of the IBM-developed apps or the bundles that combine IBM mobile device management services and Apple maintenance services with the devices themselves.

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Some partners say IBM is throwing them the scraps, keeping the most lucrative opportunities for themselves, such as combining the sale of IBM consulting services with the sale of IBM-built apps and backend software, service and support.

"It sounds like IBM is about to make the same mistake Microsoft made with Surface. It's telling partners 'hands off' a potentially lucrative new business opportunity for partners," said Bob Venero, the CEO of Future Tech, a Holbrook, N.Y.-based IBM and Apple partner. "It's unfair, unjustified and unwarranted."

Through the partnership, Apple gains a much stronger path into the lucrative enterprise space. For IBM, it allows it to tightly integrate its cloud capabilities, device management, security, and analytics into iOS devices optimized for IBM services.

Under the terms of the Apple-IBM agreement, IBM will directly sell its version of AppleCare for Enterprise (with on-site service delivered by IBM) and a new mobile device management service called MobileFirst Supply and Management in tandem with the IBM MobileFirst Platform for iOS.

Even though IBM direct sales will exclusively sell the 100 IBM-built apps, one IBM executive says it's counting on partners to develop their own apps based on its new MobileFirst Platform for iOS.

"We see this as a huge new growth opportunity for IBM and partners," said Phillip Buckellew, vice president enterprise mobile, of IBM Software Group. "The channel can take advantage of the MobileFirst Platform for iOS to build and deploy solutions that tie iOS devices with IBM's backend," Buckellew said.

For some partners, the application development opportunity represents too small a piece of the pie.

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"It shouldn't come as a big surprise the technology world's biggest egos want to control every aspect of these deals," said Majdi "Mike" Daher, founder of Apple partner Denali Advanced Integration in Redmond, Wash., referring to Apple and IBM. "Apple was famous for its burdensome restrictions on AT&T when it sold the iPhone exclusively."

IBM partners also say they are concerned that they would be forced to co-manage their existing enterprise accounts with IBM direct sales should their customers want the Apple-IBM exclusive apps.

"IBM now becomes my competition," said Ira Grossman, CTO of end-user and mobile computing at the Apple partner MCPc, whose Anyplace Workspace is centered on providing anyplace, anytime, anywhere computing to corporations.

Grossman said he isn't impressed by IBM's existing mobile device management offerings and doesn't hold out a lot of hope this latest partnership with Apple will sway his opinion. "Realistically, IBM is not a big mobile player compared with Zen Mobile, MobileIron, and [VMware] AirWatch. IBM can't afford to be proprietary. There are too many options out there such as SAP and Oracle big data apps available to the enterprise today."

"Let's hope Apple can catch up. I'm not holding my breath," Grossman said.

Buckellew said Apple and IBM are still drafting the plans to roll the program out and say the IBM MobileFirst Platform for iOS will be available through IBM direct in the fall. Apple did not return calls seeking comment for this story.