IBM on Thursday unveiled its new 'MobileFirst for iOS Garage' at Manyata Tech Park in Bengaluru. The Garage, one among a network of centres in Atlanta, Cupertino, Chicago and Toronto, aims to help clients in India and around the world develop enterprise-facing mobile apps and achieve overall digital transformation at speed and scale on Apple's iOS platform.
The partnership, 2014–Present
IBM had partnered with Apple in July 2014 to provide enterprise mobility solutions through a new suite of ‘made for business’ apps, bringing together IBM’s big data analytics capabilities and Apple's software platform and devices for enterprises. To date, IBM claims that it has developed over 100 apps across 15 industries and delivered nearly 2,000 client engagements.
While IBM declined to name most of the Indian clients they have partnered with or are in talks with, they did disclose that Kalyan Jewellers is one of the clients looking to leverage their mobile solutions. Mahmoud Naghshineh, GM, Apple partnership at IBM, noted that the partnership with Apple has been fruitful for IBM as it has netted them almost $1 billion in signings over the last year. He said,
With each IBM MobileFirst for iOS client’s success, we see the conversation shifting from wanting a single app to cultivating a broader business transformation led by mobile.
IBM also announced 'Mobile at Scale' for iOS, a new offering specifically for clients looking to invest in 'digital transformation' projects that include more than three iOS apps over a multi-year period. G Venkatraghavan, VP — Service Lines, IBM, noted that most of the clients they work with generally have the need for multiple apps, not just one. He said,
The number of apps a company leverages is a degree of the digital transformation that it has achieved.
Clients opting for this model would get full access to IBM’s portfolio of MobileFirst for iOS apps, iOS app accelerators for rapid app development and customisation, and enterprise design services that align the app experience to the needs of the user.
While IBM has iOS Garages globally in USA and Canada, G Venkatraghavan and Mahmoud noted that IBM's India team had a major role to play in developing more than half of the 100 apps deployed so far, which was why they decided to set up a Garage in Bengaluru.
While it is the fifth global centre, Bengaluru's Garage is the first to have full end-to-end capabilities to handle client engagements to design, develop, and implement multiple bespoke iOS apps. With the world’s largest concentration of Swift developers, IBM design and iOS device expertise and consulting services, the Bengaluru Garage aims to serve as a global development hub for iOS apps and work with existing design locations in Atlanta, Chicago, Cupertino and Toronto.
IBM notes that there are 22 interdisciplinary teams working in the Bengaluru Garage, using end-to-end DevOps, IBM Design Thinking, and agile delivery approaches to deliver iOS solutions quickly in weeks. Talking more about their turnaround times, G Venkatraghavan noted that teams have turned around projects in six to seven weeks and the more complicated ones in slightly longer time periods.
The need for enterprise app solutions
G Venkatraghavan and Mahmoud believe that in this day and age, enterprise-facing mobile apps are the best solution for companies to make the lives of their employees easier. Mahmoud then showed a demo of how an employee of an airline company could help passengers who have missed their flight rebook flights quickly through the app's dashboard. He noted that customers are generally irritated or tense in these situations and airline employees need to act quickly with the right information, which IBM and Apple are able to provide with their enterprise app.
As a part of the deal, IBM generally develops the app as per the customised needs of the client and then cross-sells Apple's devices such as iPhones and iPads preloaded with the particular app. G Venkatraghavan noted that their goal is to develop apps that are so intuitive that clients don’t need manuals to figure them out.
G Venkatraghavan also observed that most enterprises have multiple touch points that they need to keep in mind to provide a good experience to their customers. He said,
Each of these touch points which you have with your customer is a potential app. Enterprise apps generally don't do a lot of things, but they should do one thing well.
Going forward, IBM plans to open satellite centres in other countries such as Brazil, China, Romania and more, where they see potential. IBM currently has about 500 Swift developers in their network globally and in the coming year aims to double that number through special training programmes and other initiatives.
While India may be a good source of talent, iOS devices constitute a minuscule (2.81 percent vs Android's 68.5 percent) portion of the market because of their relatively high prices compared to Android devices. So IBM and Apple may face difficulty finding many willing Indian clients, compared to the more mature global markets. But Tim Cook recently visited India and announced the launch of a new design and development accelerator in Bengaluru and an Apple Maps development centre in Hyderabad. So if Apple decides to manufacture their devices in India in the near future, they may be able to offer a better deal and appeal to enterprises and consumers more.
Coming back to apps, some industry experts have predicted that consumer-facing apps could die out in the coming years as they make way for chatbot and Messenger platforms like Facebook's Messenger, Whatsapp, and Telegram. However, Mahmoud believes that enterprise apps on the other hand are just getting started as many enterprises are now “dipping their toes in the water” and believes that they will remain relevant for a long time. He also noted that many enterprises are now allocating more of their budget for mobile solutions.