Why Apple-IBM deal is huge for retail

The revelation that IBM and Apple would be working together on a new range of mobile solutions is a huge development in its own right, but the landmark deal also promises to have a wide-ranging impact on the retail industry.

The reason why IBM and Apple joining forces to, as they put it, “transform enterprise mobility through a new class of business app,” is such a big deal relates to the companies’ respective strengths that will be brought to bear against the retail industry’s biggest operational challenges. In a nutshell, IBM is combining its big data and analytics capabilities with Apple’s iPhone and iPad to serve corporate customers in industry verticals, one of which is retail.

“iPhone and iPad are the best mobile devices in the world and have transformed the way people work with over 98% of the Fortune 500 and over 92% of the Global 500 using iOS devices in their business today,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “For the first time ever we’re putting IBM’s renowned big data analytics at iOS users’ fingertips, which opens up a large market opportunity for Apple. This is a radical step for enterprise and something that only Apple and IBM can deliver.”

That would sound like hyperbole expect for the fact that it is true. Apple made the smartphone easy and intuitive and then did the same for tablet computers. It pushed the complexity of the operating systems upstream so the user didn’t have to think about configuring the device and customizing settings, freeing them to engage with and enjoy content.

For its part, IBM can tout a long list of capabilities and business accomplishments without which many company can’t operate. Recent years have seen IBM transform its business to become the global leader in big data, analytics and business intelligence.

“Mobility, combined with the phenomena of data and cloud, is transforming business and our industry in historic ways, allowing people to re-imagine work, industries and professions,” said Ginni Rometty, IBM chairman, president and CEO. “This alliance with Apple will build on our momentum in bringing these innovations to our clients globally, and leverages IBM’s leadership in analytics, cloud, software and services. We are delighted to be teaming with Apple, whose innovations have transformed our lives in ways we take for granted, but can’t imagine living without. Our alliance will bring the same kind of transformation to the way people work, industries operate and companies perform.”

For starters, the partnership aims to redefine the way work gets done by addressing key mobility challenges in four areas. The companies plan to develop a new class of more than 100 industry-specific enterprise solutions, one of which is retail, that include native apps that are developed exclusively from the ground up for iPhone and iPad. In addition, there will be unique IBM cloud services optimized for iOS such as device management, security, analytics and mobile integration. A new AppleCare service and support offering will be developed as will a new IBM offering for device activation, supply and management.

Retail will be one of the first industry verticals receiving attention from the companies as they build a new class of “made-for-business apps” under the banner of IBM MobileFirst for iOS Solutions. The apps targeting specific industry issues or opportunities in retail, healthcare, banking, travel and transportation, telecommunications and insurance, among others, will become available starting this fall and into 2015.

The result will be a range of apps that can transform specific aspects of how retailers, their employees and trading partners work using iPhone and iPad. According to IBM and Apple this will allow companies to achieve new levels of efficiency, effectiveness and customer satisfaction faster and easier than ever before.

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