IBM’s mobile first plan is really about cloud first. That’s all you need to know

IBM launched its mobile first strategy this morning with several media stories and more fanfare than facts. At the core of the strategy is that IBM (and its customers) have realized that mobile is changing the game in terms of how customers expect to interact with businesses, but also that in putting mobile first they need to change their entire IT to take advantage of it.

As James Governor, an analyst at Redmonk, puts it in his very astute take on IBM’s news:

MobileFirst is a really big deal, because it doesn’t come alone. Mobile first means Cloud First. It also means Social First. It also means Big Data First. API-first. You get the picture. When a customer has a problem they think is a mobile problem, it turns out its a Cloud-hosting problem, and so on. Every mobile engagement IBM does with a client is going to have significant pull through in other areas. In that respect IBM’s mobile commitment is somewhat like its Linux commitment back in the day. IBM won’t make money directly selling a mobile operating system (it will leave that space to the likes of Google), but in associated revenue streams and product lines.

That right there is a point I tried to bring up with Paul Bloom, the Research CTO of IBM Telecom last week when we chatted about the announcement. I was excited about how IBM could pull all of those things together — after all, this is the company that makes billions on middleware — but Bloom was more focused on the telecommunications side of things. And IBM does have an impressive telecom heritage with a history of developing everything from the technologies used on the chips inside some networks to the software pulling the networks together. That doesn’t even count the IBM gear inside telco data centers.

Bloom said that IBM has pulled together roughly 10 acquisitions since 2006 that will help with this effort with a special emphasis on WorkLight, a mobile application development platform, and BigFix, which manages distributed endpoints (like thousands of mobile phones!). Building the underlying infrastructure to support the mobile first world is tough.

Connecting federated apps via APIs and across different platforms is a problem CIOs and developers are just now trying to solve. And making sure those pieces are then delivered in a beautiful and timely fashion to a massive number of different devices with different operating systems and capabilities is like asking a chef to make a meal that will appeal to every human on earth. That IBM is going after this is not unexpected, but it is a tough order.

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