IBM makes big mobile push with MobileFirst

The company has marshalled its mobile products and services under a new brand

IBM is making a renewed push into the burgeoning market for all things mobile, saying it can help its corporate customers grow revenue and become more competitive through mobile app development.

The effort pulls together a raft of IBM products and services, some recently acquired, under a new umbrella brand: MobileFirst. It's aimed at a market that many view as ripe for expansion -- helping business turn the proliferation of smartphones and tablets from a management headache into an advantage.

"We're on the cusp of a massive acceleration here," said Jerry Cuomo, CTO for IBM's WebSphere products, in an interview.

Through MobileFirst, IBM says it will help companies design and build customer-facing apps that reduce operational costs or help grow their business, much as airlines are doing with electronic boarding passes, or as Uber has done with its taxi ordering service.

IBM says it also has the tools for building internal apps for sales staff and other workers, and for managing the influx of employee devices. Making better use of mobile can lead to better ways of doing business, not just improving how existing business is done, according to Cuomo. "It's not just about the app, it's about how that app drives process innovation," he said.

IBM will be competing with other major vendors such as SAP, which also is making a big mobile push, and with a plethora of smaller vendors such as Appcelerator, which makes an app development platform. It will also compete with services firms such as Accenture and Cognizant.

IBM says it has an advantage because it has all the pieces under one roof.

Last year was the year that big businesses developed a mobile strategy and piloted apps, and 2013 will be the year for implementation, said Kevin Benedict, head analyst for social, mobile, analytics and cloud at Cognizant Technology Services.

"The market for enterprise mobility is absolutely huge, and it's never going away," he said. That could be an advantage for big players such as IBM, because companies want to invest in platforms they know will be around for many years to come.

IBM clearly sees this as a massive opportunity. Its press materials referred to Thursday's MobileFirst announcement as its "most significant mobile strategy move since the introduction of the ThinkPad." The company said it would double its investment in mobile this year, though it didn't provide a dollar amount.

The offerings announced Thursday include the MobileFirst Platform for apps development and deployment. That includes its Worklight deployment software, which is getting new single-sign-on capabilities, and a new beta of Rational Test Workbench, which is software for performance testing and other functions.

It also has MobileFirst software for device management, including updates to EndPoint Manager, and for analytics, through its acquisition of Tealeaf, which made tools for monitoring customer behavior. IBM Global Services is also in on the act, with strategy and deployment services.

The company will support app development and device management for all the major smartphone platforms, it said, including iOS, Android, Windows Phone 8 and BlackBerry. For example, a new version of AppScan will expand its vulnerability testing to include iOS apps.

"We're not in the device business, but we do have an opinion on how companies should develop mobile apps," Cuomo said. For example, IBM advises customers to build Javascript apps that can run across multiple platforms, he said, instead of building native apps for each OS.

As far as IBM is concerned, customers who aren't thinking about mobile are leaving money on the table.

"We believe that without mobile being first on their minds, in terms of how they develop and how they approach their business processes, they can't be as successful as they could be," said Arthur Chiang, vice president for mobility services with IBM Global Technology Services.

"In terms of the revenue opportunities and the cost-saving opportunities, it represents billions of dollars if you properly enable mobile," he said.

IBM will hold a webcast from the Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona next week to discuss its mobile plans. People can register for the event here.

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