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IBM-Apple deal could have far reaching consequences for retailers

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The deal forged between former tech enemies IBM and Apple that will see IBM tweak its enterprise mobility solutions and apps to work really well on Apple devices is set to have a big impact on retail.

The IBM MobileFirst for iOS deal will see solutions built in an exclusive collaboration that draws on the distinct strengths of each company: IBM’s big data and analytics capabilities, with the power of more than 100,000 IBM industry and domain consultants and software developers behind it, fused with Apple’s consumer experience, hardware and software integration and developer platform.

The combination, says Apple, will “create apps that can transform specific aspects of how businesses and employees work using iPhone and iPad, allowing companies to achieve new levels of efficiency, effectiveness and customer satisfaction—faster and easier than ever before”.

IBM will create “unique cloud services” for iOS, including tools for security, analytics and device management. It will also resell iPhones and iPads to its corporate customers, and Apple will roll out new support services for businesses.

In other words, Apple and IBM are putting a full-court press on the mobile business market. And they’re doing so in a tightly wedded fashion: The companies used the word “exclusive” four times in the announcement.

But IBM already has a strong enterprise pedigree in retail and many at the announcement asked what was in it for retailers. IBM stressed that the IBM Mobile First for iOS would be build initially from the ground up, existing apps and solutions would, in time, be pushed into the programme.

A spokesman for IBM told us that: “For all those existing apps, IBM has a market-leading AMS business for mobility that is dedicated to the management of clients’ applications portfolios. Those running on Windows or Unix platforms today are candidates to be converted to iOS”.

So what could this mean for retailers? Well, Apple devices have long been the device of choice among business people, but they have so far not been pushed into the enterprise environment officially: ask you IT guy – he’d much rather you had a Blackberry or even a Windows phone. This deal pushed Apple very much to the heart of corporate mobility.

IBM meanwhile has long bent over backwards to understand corporate clients and has some high end solutions in place with many of the world’s top retailers. This deal opens them up to become iOS centric when it comes to mobility for their staff. This will have an impact on everything from merchandising to inventory outwards.

For store associates on the floor, an iOS app could allow them to help customers by quickly responding to their questions and find what they need, be it in the store or on online. A retail workforce app could collect data instantly and also mine data to make recommendations to improve the customer experience and improve margins for the store. To provide real-time visibility into factors affecting sales, from bad weather to customer reaction to a new product line, a mobile retail dashboard could help increase revenue.

The other interesting aspect of the deal for retailers is how this tie in with iOS will play out with iBeacon technology and what ever Apple decides to do about mobile payments – rumoured to be in the pipeline with the release of iOS8 later this year. There are no details at present, but the IBM deal could well be the precursor to Apple cementing its position in m-payments and loyalty not just from a consumer standpoint but from a retailer one too.

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