Ignore the naysayers, IBM and Apple were made for each other

It has been a long time coming, but a dream has come true for many in the IT business.
Written by Colin Barker, Contributor

I for one always thought this day would come, or perhaps it would be truer to say that I hoped it would. IBM and Apple have finally buried the hatchet and decided that life would be sweeter together rather than scoring points of each other.

Yesterday the two companies signed an agreement with the aim of "bringing IBM’s big data and analytics capabilities to iPhone and iPad". The deal aims to "redefine the way work will get done". It is grandiose stuff and is based on four core capabilities, as the companies said in their joint statement. Among them are:

  • A new class of more than 100 industry-specific enterprise solutions including native apps, developed exclusively from the ground up, for iPhone and iPad.
  • IBM cloud services optimised for iOS, including device management, security, analytics and mobile integration.
  • New AppleCare service and support offering tailored to the needs of the enterprise.
  • New packaged offerings from IBM for device activation, supply and management.

So IBM will be selling Apple systems alongside its own. You may think, 'so what?' and that would be an entirely understandable reaction since we are quite used to different suppliers selling other suppliers stuff.

But for people like me who have grown up in a world where IBM and Apple have, at various times, significant rivals, it's a big change.

They have always been two very different companies. I remember that 30-odd years ago I turned up an IBM demonstration which lasted an hour or two.

At one point I needed to use a toilet and asked directions. The PR man said he would show me where the toilets were. I went into the toilets, the PR man came with me. I used the toilet, the PR man stayed and twiddled his thumbs. Do you have to follow me everywhere, I enquired? Sorry about that, he said, looking sheepish, but yes he did.

That was old-style IBM where rule number one was, "Think" and rule number two was "do not trust anybody, especially if they are press".

Apple, by comparison, had no such qualms. That company would let you go anywhere and see or do anything. At around the same time as I visited IBM I was invited to Hemel Hempstead for a hush-hush off-the-record, briefing with Apple. Myself and another journalist were ushered into an office where we were shown a brand new computer – the Apple Macintosh. It was easily the most brilliantly innovative thing that either of us had ever seen. On the way back on the train the two of us struggled to take in what we had seen and raved about how good the Mac looked.

And now? As I see it, Apple has tightened up to such an extent that it never even talks to the likes of me any more. I have requested various meetings with them and not only do they not grant the meetings they do not even return my phone calls.

IBM, by contrast, could not be more friendly or accommodating. They, I am happy to report, always return my calls.

So IBM has learned to loosen up a bit and Apple has done the opposite. Tim Cook is running the tightest of tight ships as Apple CEO but then he has had good training having previously spent 12 years at IBM where he learnt a lot about what makes a huge IT company tick.

So, the question is, can an Apple/IBM alliance work to the benefit of both companies? My gut feeling is that it should. Apple can learn a lot from IBM about running a very large scale, professional operation good enough to be trusted by any large-scale operation or government.

For its part, Apple has the style and panache that a traditionally strait laced company like IBM can learn from. It's taken them a long time but they've learned from each other and perhaps both companies are better for it.

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