Will IBM Hit Gold with MobileFirst?

Anindya is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.

International Business Machines (NYSE: IBM), which had worked hard to build formidable products and services in cloud and analytics, had suddenly found itself inadequate in mobility, a rapidly-emerging area that was becoming a conduit to these two businesses. To expand its mobile presence, IBM plans to double its investment in mobility. It’s an attempt to offer an enterprise mobility solution that will be a one stop shop for customers. To make this grand plan a reality, IBM announced what it has dubbed IBM MobileFirst.

IBM MobileFirst is designed to help enterprises build a total and integrated mobile strategy -- and emphasizes a top-down strategic approach over a more tactical bottom-up approach. That is not to say that MobileFirst won’t support the latter -- sure it will.

In this post, while I’ll focus on IBM’s potential in enterprise mobility, I’ll also analyze its competitive position in the peer group. Let’s see if there’s a wide moat for investors in IBM MobileFirst.

With MobileFirst, IBM offers a comprehensive IT solution

A comprehensive information technology solution will cover Cloud, Social, Mobile and Information, that’s according to Gartner's 'Nexus of Forces'. After much research and reporting, Gartner has ultimately decided that companies leveraging these four tech realms will prevail, and those that don’t will not be as successful.

It’s a tall order to successfully pull off each individual piece of such a comprehensive strategy. IBM and a few of its competitors -- such as SAP (NYSE: SAP), EMC (NYSE: EMC) and VMware (NYSE: VMW) -- are in a position to offer customers solutions in all the four areas. While SAP has already been in the mobility space for quite some time, apart from cloud, analytics and social media, IBM and VMware joined the mobile league only in 2013.

IBM MobileFirst: What’s inside?

The key components of MobileFirst include:

  • IBM MobileFirst Platform: It will help expand the capabilities of IBM Worklight to simplify deployment, as well as the ability to deliver single sign-on capabilities for multiple applications.
  • IBM MobileFirst Security: IBM has extended its context-based mobile access control solutions and has expanded the mobile application vulnerability testing capabilities of AppScan, which now also provides support for Apple iOS apps.
  • IBM MobileFirst Management: It will include enhanced support for BYOD programs and increased security standards that are critical for all facets of government -- federal, state or local, and regulated environments -- especially healthcare.
  • IBM MobileFirst Analytics: IBM is also expanding its Tealeaf CX Mobile solution to give enterprises more visual insight into mobile behaviors. 

IBM vs. SAP: SAP an early mover in mobility

SAP has moved from being an applications vendor to software provider with a broad portfolio that includes business analytics, information management and mobility infrastructure. Although weak in adoption of social media, SAP has embraced the Nexus of Forces as its go-to-market strategy, says Gartner.

SAP's business strategy fits into Gartner's Nexus as it embraces the cloud, mobile and information forces. SAP continues to execute its mobile strategy aggressively to become a leader in enterprise mobile development. SAP has reinforced its early bet on mobility (compared to other major independent software vendors) through organizational changes that place it on an equal footing with other major SAP initiatives, such as Hana. IBM’s MobileFirst program will face fierce competition from SAP.

SAP has one of the largest mobile development efforts in terms of devoted internal resources and partner management. SAP has a strong mobile device management (MDM) offering, Afaria. As with the other mobile enterprise application platform vendors that offer MDM and mobile application management (MAM) capabilities, this enables SAP to provide a broader, better integrated mobile solution, while extending its reach throughout enterprise IT.

Gartner believes that by 2013, SAP will offer context-enriched services through a combination of the Sybase 365 mobile consumer application platform, SAP applications and Sybase's data analytics. While SAP has been enjoying the leadership position in enterprise mobility, IBM has a long way to go.

IBM vs. EMC and VMware: New kids on the block

VMware and EMC are committing key existing technology, people and programs from both companies focused on Big Data and Cloud Application Platforms under one virtual organization -- the Pivotal Initiative. The companies expect to formally unite these resources by Q2 2013, with a specific operational structure to be determined.

The Pivotal Initiative will enable a new generation of workloads that can exploit the advancements VMware is driving in datacenter. By realigning resources within the Pivotal Initiative, VMware will be able to fully mobilize resources on delivering the software defined datacenter, the de facto infrastructure at the heart of cloud computing, and on end-user computing -- two areas where they see tremendous opportunity for growth.

The platform, jointly offered by the two companies, hasn’t covered the mobile space. Therefore, not to be outdone, VMware launched its Horizon Workspace platform as well as updates to its Horizon View and Horizon Mirage products. Last year, VMware unveiled its Horizon Suite of desktop virtualization products designed to help IT administrators manage worker mobility and the BYOD trend.

With Horizon Workspace, IT administrators will be able to allocate data, apps or desktops to end users or groups instead of devices, improving BYOD security. IBM MobileFirst will compete with Horizon Workspace, and it remains to be seen how the competition shapes up.

The bottom line

With MobileFirst, IBM is certainly not first in the enterprise mobility race. SAP is way ahead and there are lots of small fragmented players. VMware is also set to emerge as a serious opponent, powered by EMC. IBM has a gigantic plan with MobileFirst, and given its expertise and strong presence in cloud and big data analytics, MobileFirst has all the ingredients to beat the rivals. It’s an opportunity for IBM, and certainly an opportunity for investors to profit from enterprise mobility.


Anindya7 has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends VMware. The Motley Fool owns shares of EMC, International Business Machines., and VMware. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. Is this post wrong? Click here. Think you can do better? Join us and write your own!

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