Apple and IBM's enterprise alliance just scored a major retail win

Boots becomes first retailer to roll out iPad 'sales assist' app across 2,300 stores.
Written by Steve Ranger, Global News Director

Robin Phillips, director of omnichannel and development at Boots, shows off the new app.

Image: IBM

UK pharmacy and beauty chain Boots is the first company to roll out a new retail app developed as part of IBM and Apple's enterprise deal.

IBM's 'Sales Assist' app allows iPad-touting sales staff to show product information and reviews to shoppers, to find out whether a particular item is available in store or at a nearby branch, and to order items for next day delivery. The retailer is running the app on 3,700 iPads across its stores.

The app taps into the product databases on the Boots website to make recommendations, such as additional or alternative items. It also displays local trends, for example that fake tan is selling well in one area or that sunblock is a big seller in another.

Previously, staff used the retailer's website on their tablets, but the site includes additional content that makes it harder to navigate and doesn't connect to the retailer's internal systems.

There is scope for more features to be added to the app, for example the iPads can't currently process payments, and Boots said more capabilities will be added soon.

Robin Phillips, Boots director of omni-channel and development, said: "In terms of the roadmap it's the obvious things that you would think 'why doesn't it do this yet?', it probably will in the future."

The app was developed under a deal signed by IBM and Apple in July 2014 to work together on developing enterprise apps and selling iPads, iPhones, and the Apple Watch. The deal with IBM is the most high-profile element of Apple's ongoing enterprise push. As smartphone sales level off and sales of iPads have started to decline, the company is looking to business customers for new growth. The idea behind the tie-up is to combine Apple's hardware expertise with IBM's ability to integrate business applications.

Boots is using Bluemix, IBM's cloud platform, to link Sales Assist with the company's applications and data. The retailer's website also runs on IBM WebSphere Commerce.

Shamayun Miah, IBM's European VP of Apple partnerships, said connecting mobile devices into a business's core systems is the key to success. "Integration is the biggest challenge out there," he said. "60 percent of projects in mobile fail because of integration."

Enterprise app rollouts, such as the one undertaken for Boots, are increasingly focused on a single platform, such as iOS, he said.

"I'm seeing a standardisation because the cost of maintenance is three or four times the actual project itself over time."

He added that businesses are also extending their use of apps. "Most clients are not going for one or two apps now. I've just signed a five year programme for 70 apps for one client," he said.

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