Apple and IBM: an unlikely alliance?

Jack Bauer always does
what is necessary
Like many Australians, I was glued to the TV on Monday night watching the final episode of the latest series of 24.

It’s one of my favourite TV shows of all time and, as usual, the greatest TV action hero ever (Jack Bauer) had his back against the wall as he sought to save the world against impossible odds.

As the season was building towards the climax, Jack was forced to team up with someone who had been working against him for much of the series.  For a few short hours, Jack and his ‘enemy’ were forced to work together to accomplish a greater good.

It’s not often you see this happening either on TV or in the real world, but when it does happen it raises a few eyebrows (while also making for enthralling viewing).

A similar ‘partnership of convenience’, so to speak, was thrust into the global spotlight last week where traditional rivals IBM and Apple, announced they were going to start working together.

Essentially, the unlikely pair will create apps for businesses that draw on Apple’s functionality and IBM’s cloud-computing and security expertise.

The Economist describes the decision as “Apple’s first significant thrust into corporate services and amounts to a sea change in its philosophy.”

This is because Apple has, to be blunt, not always been very complimentary of IBM.  In fact, Apple’s founder, the late Steve Jobs, once described IBM as representing the “computer Dark Ages” – not something you’d often say about a business partner.

According to one journalist’s analysis, this initiative between the former rivals has serious success potential because both companies are combining existing successful products, rather than attempting to create something new together.

It seems IBM and Apple were faced with the same choice as Jack Bauer.   Rather than go it alone and attempt to save the world with the odds insurmountably stacked against him (or in the companies’ case, make more money), he could team up with his rival realising they both had something the other needed.

The lessons for business leaders (and, perhaps, individuals too in many walks of life) are challenging, as it prompts many questions we may not be accustomed to considering.  

Questions like:
  • What is something one of my competitors does well that I could be a part of?
  • Do I even know what my competitors are doing?
  • Would I be prepared to share some of my greatest assets or IP with one of my competitors if it meant greater potential for long-term success?

The business (and consumer) world will be watching closely this new joint venture to see what happens next.  Could it open the floodgates to even more partnerships between competing technology behemoths?  Or will it fail and leave Samsung and Microsoft chuckling in the corner?

Either way, it seems Apple and IBM asked themselves, “What would Jack Bauer do?” and the answer was: “Whatever is necessary to accomplish my objective.”

And in their case, it meant burying the hatchet and working with their enemy.