If IBM and Apple Are Making Peace, It Is Really Another World

If IBM and Apple Are Making Peace, It Is Really Another World


by Gianluigi Castelli and Gianluca Salviotti, SDA Bocconi School of Management
Translated by Alex Foti

There once was Thomas J. Watson, who used the imperative "Think" to urge people to work with their heads and not with their feet. The "Think" motto inspired the management culture and market of IBM, the company Watson was President and CEO of from 1914 to 1956. An imperative that survived Watson’s tenure at the helm of IBM: over the years, it was consolidated in the logic of design of products and services provided by Big Blue, and inspired the first global wave in the digitization of companies. In that phase, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) had the task of freeing people from routine tasks and leave them time to think.

In the late Seventies came an apple that, like Newton’s, inspired Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak to create a different worldview. Their motto, "Think Different", was meant in sharp contrast with the IBM’s culture. The rival motto was launched in 1984 and expressed Apple’s vision of digital technology centered around the person, as a way of people coming together to enable innovative thoughts and behaviors. Under the philosophy of the "Think Different" manifesto, technology started to spread outside of business contexts, in an evolutionary path that has followed, as well as influenced, the evolution of society.

A long journey that today has conjoined the two different philosophies. In 2014, Apple and IBM signed a global agreement under which Big Blue becomes a value-added reseller of Apple devices for the business world, thereby providing hundreds of apps to facilitate the work of managers, as well as the support services required to get them started and make them work. The shade of blue added to the apple has been blessed by all market analysts: on the one hand, Apple will expand its user base in the business market, while IBM on the other hand will have a market for a range of additional services that consistent with its own strategic pillar, "Mobile First".

The case of IBM and Apple is emblematic of a phenomenon that characterizes the spread of digital technologies across companies, called consumerization: the use and style of technology in the workplace is dictated by the evolution of private individuals’ profiles and their usage of personal technologies.

Basically, today it has become unthinkable for a company not to make available to its employees the digital products and services that they freely use in private: from smartphones to social networks, from the cloud (e.g., Dropbox) to videoconferencing (e.g., Skype).

Consumerization is the basis of the increasing convergence between consumer and business technologies. Always citing Apple, consumerization explains the launch of a product such as iPad Pro, developed by leveraging the winning features of the tablet but intended mainly for work uses. Among other things, precisely during the same launch event of the new Apple devices, the Cupertino-based company left the stage for a few minutes to another historic rival, Microsoft, for the presentation of the new Office suite for iOS. A further example of how the convergence between the two sectors of the information technology market is having an impact on the competitive dynamics of the industry. Microsoft itself in 2012 completed the acquisition of the social networking platform Yammer for $1.2 billion. Why? To offer companies the ability to create and manage community of employees where the latter can connect, share content and collaborate much as they do on social media networks.


As well as offering a key to interpret the strategies of the major players, the digital convergence between consumer technologies and business technologies can represent one of the analytical dimensions to predict some of the digital products and services which could be introduced in companies in the medium term. So, observing the main trends in the digital consumer market, it is not far-fetched to think for instance of logistics operators interacting with drones in the handling of materials, or maintenance personnel wearing visors that superimpose digital information to physical objects and environments.


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