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IBM-Apple Love Fest Has Some Partners Feeling Like A Third Wheel

IBM, however, says each level of deploying and managing an app on the IBM platform has a partner component that allows partners to generate recurring revenue.

The Apple-IBM app love fest Wednesday had some IBM business partners saying they feel like a third wheel. But IBM insists a new class of made-for-business iOS apps that run on iPhones and iPads -- and are powered by IBM cloud services -- will be a huge boon to partners.

"Any IBM partner building mobile apps today needs to take a serious look at the IBM Bluemix platform and the MobileFirst program announced today," said Mike Gerentine, global vice president, business partners and marketing, at IBM, Armonk, N.Y..

"IBM's infrastructure is mission-critical," Gerentine said. "Customers want flexibility with an easy to use Apple-like front end, they want it secure, and they want it to be managed from the back end, just like any enterprise software application. And that's what IBM and Apple are bringing to the table."

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IBM Wednesday released 10 apps developed specifically for IBM direct customers through its Global Business Services. The 10 applications unveiled by Apple and IBM are more or less proof points demonstrating how this relationship can work for partners and customers.

But what IBM also made available for the first time, and exclusively to IBM and its partners, are iOS enhancements to its mobile development platform that allow IBM and its partners to build iOS apps that can connect with private clouds, allow real-time data synchronization across devices, and enable third-party mobile app management, according to Michael Gilfix, director of enterprise mobile at IBM.

"The iOS enhancements for our development platform have just been made available. The cloud version will be coming out shortly," Gilfix said.

IBM revealed a target of 100 apps but said it eventually will be thousands of apps as IBM and channel partners develop unique applications, he said "We don't just want IBM partners to help build apps; we are counting on them."

But despite the popularity of Apple products in the enterprise, a number of IBM partners interviewed by CRN said they remained uncertain or skeptical the Apple-IBM partnership would generate significant new business for them.

Stephen Monteros, vice president of business development and strategic initiatives at Sigmanet, an Ontario, Calif.-based Apple and IBM partner and solution provider specializing in app development, said it was unclear whether IBM would end up being a competitor to his business or a partner enabling him to sell more apps to his customers.

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"iPads dominate the corporate landscape and developing apps that tie in back-end systems via an easy-to-use Apple device is fantastic," said Rory Sanchez, president of SL Powers, a West Palm Beach, Fla.-based solution provider. "But I need to see the road map and the bullet points on partner margins."

When it comes to partner profit potential, Gilfix said the opportunity for IBM partners and ISVs is huge.

IBM partners can turn to its development platform Bluemix, cloud service SoftLayer, and Cloud Marketplace to market their apps, said Gilfix. Each level of deploying and managing an app on the IBM platform has a partner component that allows them to generate recurring revenue, he said.

"It used to be a real art form to become an ISV. You had to create something and develop that idea, market it, get the distribution right, and keep up on all the app updates on the OS and the back-end database," said Darren Bibby, program vice president, channels and alliances research, at research firm IDC. "Now it doesn't take nearly as much to build a cloud application -- especially a mobile application. So now we are seeing all sorts of partners starting to build apps with their own intellectual property."

Biddy said the IBM and Apple deal will be a catalyst for many IBM partners with the potential of driving interest toward the ISV model. "For the right partner, this is a great opportunity," he said.

"The traditional resell model is not what this is about," IBM's Gerentine said. "Partners need to change and transform to meet their clients' evolving needs. That means they have got to move to a recurring cloud model. They have got to start developing IP that is going to add value and solutions to clients. They just can't sit there and fulfill and resell a hardware box or an existing piece of software."

"Every OEM is telling us we need to transform our business and we are," said SL Powers' Sanchez. "The headline I see with IBM and Apple is 'transform with IBM,'" he said. "I need to hear more from IBM about why we should place our big bet with IBM and not elsewhere," Sanchez said.

Bibby pointed out that app development for the enterprise has been going on for years. "Mobility and business apps are like water -- it seeps in where it can. IBM and Apple don't bring anything new, per se, to the enterprise," he said. In this context, he said, Apple and IBM are better together Applehelping IBM crack the mobile market and IBM helping Apple drive iPhone and iPad sales into the enterprise.

RAMIN EDMOND contributed to this story.

PUBLISHED DEC. 10, 2014

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