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Culture shock: Apple, IBM, Microsoft disrupt themselves

IBM and Apple's pact to usher in analytics-enabled mobile apps to enterprises could be the start of a powerful friendship -- and spell doom for rivals. Plus, Google Q2 earnings and Oracle tackles Hadoop, all in this week's Searchlight.

"If, for some reason, we make some big mistake and IBM wins, my personal feeling is that we are going to enter a computer Dark Ages for about 20 years," Steve Jobs said of Apple's then-archrival Big Blue 30 years ago. Well, the barbarians are at the gate. Or are we witnessing the dawn of big-tech enlightenment?

This week Apple and IBM announced that come fall, they will release IBM MobileFirst for iOS, alongside Apple's release of iOS 8. The suite of industry-specific business apps will offer IT departments cloud services to support the management of employees' mobile app use.

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Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, noted in a joint statement that the alliance makes a lot of sense, and the analyst community agreed. IBM's strength in the enterprise software and services market, including expertise in mobile device management, security and big data analytics, combined with Apple's loyal following of iPhone and iPad users in the enterprise (98% of whom work for Fortune 500 companies), should exceed the sum of their formidable parts. The mobile devices of choice for the executive suite will be able to take on the kind of heavy-duty tasks required to run businesses. Or that's the idea, anyway.

The alliance of rivals was not the only event that signaled it's a new day in tech. On Thursday, Microsoft made the rumors official, cutting 18,000 employees from its roster of 125,000. The layoff, while not a surprise, exceeded the company's 2009 layoff of 5,800 by a large margin. And, more important, it made good on CEO Satya Nadella's threat to make Microsoft more nimble: "We will increase the fluidity of information and ideas by taking actions to flatten the organization and develop leaner business processes. Culture change means we will do things differently," he wrote in a widely published company memo.

Time will tell whether the job cuts boost Microsoft's ability to compete with its smaller, leaner competitors. But for sure, the Apple-IBM partnership means Redmond's mobile ambitions are now up against a behemoth of a competitor. Indeed, the ripples from the alliance go on and on.

BlackBerry shares dropped 9.4% on Nasdaq Wednesday. New CEO John Chen planned a turnaround for the troubled company, but with the Apple-IBM alliance targeting the same enterprise customer base, all that effort might be for naught. The team-up could also nudge Google to look for partnerships in the corporate sector to compete with the Apple-IBM suite.

It's likely too soon to tell how all this will play out for competitors or even what effect it will have on CIO strategies. But one thing is clear. When the likes of IBM, Apple and Microsoft decide to disrupt themselves, CIOs had better be prepared to think just as radically on behalf of the companies they work for. At the very least, it's past time to harness mobility and consumerization's disruptive force to shake up business processes.

CIO news roundup for week of July 14

  • Google released its Q2 earnings yesterday, and the boost in year-over-year revenue likely owes a lot to its push into mobile ads. Who says the Internet giant can't do mobile?
  • Speaking of the search company, is that label really an accurate descriptor? "It's a machine-learning company," a former intern who helped worked on its new AI system, Google Brain (an internal code name), begged to differ. Brain marks Google's shift toward "deep learning" -- and thanks to internal code-sharing, half the teams successfully using the AI software don't need to be deep-learning experts themselves.
  • On Tuesday, Oracle announced "Oracle Big Data SQL," software that lets admins use Oracle SQL commands to query non-SQL systems -- meaning companies won't need to spend big bucks on specialized talent to harness platforms like Hadoop and NoSQL.
  • In even more mobile news, mobile messaging app Line might not ring any bells now, but it could very well be a household name soon (as it already is in many Asian countries). Line, which applied to list on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, together with other apps of its ilk, has been blazing trails in Asia outside of just text messaging. Watch out, WhatsApp.
  • Yes, CIOs need to be fluent in business; now, with rising demand for high-tech product managers, top B-schools like Harvard Business are offering courses so MBAs can be conversant in code.

Check out our previous Searchlight roundups: Win the tech talent race, go back to high school and Tablets for work still the province of the C-suite on SearchCIO.

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What do you think of the Apple-IBM alliance? Groundbreaking or small fish?
Apple has had virtually no success in the corporate desktop market, and limited success with the iPad. IBM has little or no tablet market share so it will be interesting if anything real comes out of this?