Apple and IBM are both companies I hold in great esteem – in the top 5 of all companies I care about. I worked at IBM for a long time, and I own a lot of Apple devices. I have small investments in the stocks of both companies . My day job is to make partners successful for my employer MongoDB – so any enterprise alliance news is something I look at as a learning opportunity Naturally it picked my interest significantly when I heard the announcement . My instinct was to say “Wow Ginnie scored big”. So, here are my thoughts on the alliance – strictly my personal views and not that of current or past employers.
There is very little in common between IBM and Apple to begin with.
1. Apple is a much more prosperous company than IBM – be it Market cap, revenue or margins. And its no secret that Apple is the senior partner in the relationship. IBM’s CEO flew to CA to do the announcement with Apple’s CEO, and not the other way around. If this happened in IBM’s prime years, Tim Cook would have landed in JFK and taken a limo to Armonk
2. Apple is more prosperous than IBM with MUCH less employees than IBM has. On top of that the IBM internal organization is heavily matrix oriented to take care of its complex business. It would take some Eisenhower-esque leadership to get all the right teams focused on this initiative. (But honestly, I am not all that worried since I know first hand that when it comes to leadership, IBM has some of the best in the corporate world in their ranks.)
3. Apple is extremely focused – it has a much smaller portfolio around which this massive empire has been built. IBM portfolio is like encyclopedia Brittanica in comparison . When I looked at the joint announcement first – I smiled thinking “wow you could not have expressed in a more cover-all-bases generic way”.
4. Apple makes money from hardware and IBM has been steadily divesting hardware business
5. Apple provides a workplace that is cutting edge and has an awesome cafeteria – IBM to my knowledge does not even provide free coffee to its employees . Apple prefers jeans and IBM prefers suits. The impedance mismatch in culture is palpable.
6. Although several employees at IBM use Apple devices in a BYOD mode, the company standard issue has always been a thinkpad laptop, and not a Mac.
Why does this alliance make sense ?
Just like with the law of magnetism in physics – opposite poles attract !
1. Apple is a company that thrives on innovation. But they need something to keep the market happy during the time taken between innovations. IBM opens the doors to the top enterprises – voila, a whole new addressable market delivered on a platter.
2. IBM services is pretty good at production support and maintenance. Many large companies have outsourced support to IBM – and combine Apple care with what they do today, there is a clean new upsell package for IBM GBS and GTS.
3. People don’t give enough credit for IBM’s design investments. IBM has a solid design team that does an amazing job – the most famous being the public facing sporting events like US Open. So when it comes to creating the 100 apps – design is something that IBM can rely on being a differentiator. Same goes for advertising – IBM makes some pretty impressive ads. I am thoroughly enjoying the ones I am seeing during US Open, although I don’t see any mention of the Apple collaboration in any of them.
4. IBM has an asset that they don’t seem to be able to use effectively so far – that is IBM Watson. It frustrates me to no end seeing IBM take incremental steps in pushing Watson. I think this partnership is the most fantastic way for Watson team to push its case before the biggest corporations on the planet. A Watson on every iPad ! . In fact I think rather than do the generic announcement they did – I would have preferred to see 100% of the focus on just Watson and Applecare for the enterprise. The rest seem like noise to me
5. IBM has strong alliances with many ISV partners like SAP, Oracle, MongoDB etc. And most enterprises already use solutions from these ISVs. IBM has a great opportunity to further the value of Apple alliance by building apps around what enterprises already have.
6. IBM has sheer size in its favor . A massive overhaul of enterprise tech landscapes need armies of consultants. Apple does not have that army, and can’t recruit fast enough even if god forbid they want to do it. That is a huge advantage for this alliance.
And finally, what is the big risk factor ?
This is largely a Global Business Services (GBS) led effort if I understood it correctly from the announcements. GBS is a well managed machine with extremely low bench at any given point. So if a massive investment is needed in headcount , time and budget – it will need to be taken away from billable engagements. That is a really hard thing to do unless another part of IBM can pick up the slack to bring in the money to keep investors happy. The only viable division that can pick up slack is the software group. Since Ginnie did not reset Sam’s 2015 EPS roadmap – IBM cannot take a lot of risk on losing focus on existing revenue and bottom line. That in my mind is what the risk is – there is a significant upside in the long term if everything works out well , but it needs making big bets in rejiggering the existing business for IBM.
If IBM won’t take that risk ( and I REALLY hope that they will take the risk, and convince investors to cut them some slack) – then it will be business as usual for both companies, and this will be yet another partnership announcement that did not pan out.