On July 15, IBM and Apple announced a new exclusive partnership that will couple IBM’s infrastructure services and analytics with Apple’s popular operating system (iOS) devices. Since IBM long ago exited the PC business, the one-time rivals are now willing to try to find common ground.
On the surface, we can assume IBM intends to benefit from Apple’s still shiny reputation for creating easy-to-use and reliable customer experiences, and Apple is looking to IBM’s well established corporate presence. Each partner will bring experience with cloud services, device management services, and support, and new applications and services will be developed exclusively for the iPad and iPhone.
According to PCWorld, an IBM spokeswoman says the fact that new applications and services will be designed only for iPhone and iPad is the aspect of the arrangement that defines its exclusivity. The awkwardly named IBM MobileFirst for iOS is targeting the initial release of apps this fall.
What the partnership could mean for health care
The announcement indicates that IBM will develop more than 100 applications for iPad and iPhone. This bodes well for health care, as it's one of several vertical markets the partnership is targeting for "industry-specific solutions." Drawing on Apple’s ability to combine hardware and software for an optimal user experience and IBM’s trusted security and device management solutions, these could be just the mobile solutions that health care is seeking.
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While specific visibility beyond infrastructure isn't yet available, the official word is that the new business applications will leverage IBM’s analytic capabilities. In the CNBC interview that accompanied the announcement, Apple CEO Tim Cook used language like "taking big-data analytics down to the fingertips of people" and cited workflow examples from the transportation industry. There's no clear picture of which new health care applications may emerge, but an IBM spokesman pointed to leveraging existing applications such as MD Anderson’s Oncology Expert Advisor and WatsonPaths, developed in collaboration with Cleveland Clinic, as examples of what might be possible.
What we can expect—for now
Based on what appear to be certain stated terms of the agreement, both companies seem to have a strong commitment to make the partnership work, despite the difficulties of implementing these kinds of relationships.
Watch for evidence of how the companies will resolve the challenges of bringing together two very different cultures. While Apple is trying to reinvent itself as an organization that embraces collaboration, this is certainly not their strong suit, nor is IBM known for nimble market response to emerging trends. And what does this new partnership mean for the other recently announced collaborative efforts, such as the Apple-Mayo Clinic partnership? Might we someday see an IBM-developed app based on Mayo’s intellectual property and delivered on the iOS platform?
The potential of the partnership providing solutions for health care is real, but whether reality will meet this potential will be left to play out in the backrooms for now. Any cause to change your current strategic plan? Definitely not. Interesting theater to watch? Definitely. And keep an eye out for ways to influence the product pipeline in ways that respond to health care’s triple aim imperatives.
At our national meeting, we'll talk more about how such developments should be shaping your organization's IT strategy. I encourage you to register so you can hear our recommendations and engage in these critical conversations with your peers.
In the meantime, we'll continue to share our perspective on this agreement as details and events unfold.
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