The best way for IT leaders to counter this trend isn't by trying to force users to stop developing their own solutions, which they likely won't be able to do anyway. It's to deliver enterprise software and solutions that have the high-quality user experience workers are used to on their own smartphones and tablets. That Apple's designers and engineers are working with their IBM counterparts speaks volumes about the ability of the two companies to deliver consumer-like experiences when working with enterprise, business and productivity apps.
Combine this with IBM's expertise in building business solutions and you can enable IT leaders to say to executives, line-of-business managers and end users that, "We hear you and we're going to give you the kinds of tools you want and need" — and then deliver on that promise. The partnership may be the first initiative that can truly blunt the threat of shadow IT in a real and large-scale way. That's incredibly significant for everyone involved.
Apple also brings with it its consumer-focused customer support, which continues to win multiple awards each year. While IBM will bring a breadth of enterprise support knowledge and experience, Apple will bring its successful support model. That should be a winning combination, though there might also be some culture shock for the two companies as they build a support infrastructure.
Can other companies compete?
The scale of this new partnership is incredible and it will be a force in the enterprise technology market. Together, the two companies have the capability to dominate enterprise mobility in particular, and enterprise technology in general in the coming years. That raises the question of whether other companies can truly compete with Apple and IBM. The answer isn't clear cut.
Although the announcement takes much of the wind out of the sails for Google's Android Work initiative, Google is a diverse company that has been making serious in-roads in the enterprise for years with its Google Apps business and, more recently, with ChromeOS.
Meanwhile, Microsoft is an entrenched incumbent and will likely remain so for the foreseeable future, though its attempts to generate significant consumer or business interest in Windows Phone or enterprise interest in Windows 8 haven't met with much success and the company is still reinventing itself under new CEO Satya Nadella. Microsoft's Enterprise Mobility Suite and the launch of Office for iPad demonstrate that it is serious about the arena IBM is filling with this partnership and Microsoft has solid enterprise chops of its own.
While I wouldn't call either Google or Microsoft out of the fight, both companies have some serious hurdles to overcome now. If they "lose" by Apple's and IBM's decision to partner up, it's clear there are also winners: Enterprise IT shops and the people they serve.
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