How IBM plans to expand MobileFirst for iOS program

How IBM plans to expand MobileFirst for iOS program

IBM's MobileFirst for iOS initiative is now well into its third year. The head of the program and two of its customers talk to about progress, challenges and plans for 2017.

Apple and IBM’s program for iOS mobile app development in the enterprise is broadening its reach this year as more businesses pursue apps that can transform how their employees work, according to IBM. “We are engaged with more than 1,000 clients across the world,” says Mahmoud Naghshineh, IBM’s general manager in charge of the MobileFirst for iOS partnership with Apple.

IBM also plans to integrate Watson analytics and cognitive differentiation to its growing portfolio of iOS apps in 2017, according to Naghshineh. Once a new app is deployed and it becomes valuable for the business, the next step is to make it smarter, he says.

Hundreds of businesses have deployed apps to date and more are in development or at least in the sales cycle that leads to design and testing of new apps, according to Naghshineh. Changing the way people work, which was the original goal of Apple and IBM’s partnership, is also resulting in rapid digital transformation for many businesses, he says.

“Instead of this big bang, huge transformation that starts on the backend… we have established a model that you can go about in a staged approach,” Naghshineh says. “Test it, iterate, make it better, deliver the results, see the benefits and go to the next [app].”

[ Related: With Watson Element, Apple and IBM aim to transform education ]

The foundation for many of these apps is already established in a group of more than 100 iOS apps that IBM developed for industry-specific functions in the first 17 months of the MobileFirst for iOS initiative. That portfolio serves as a starting point for many businesses that have similar functions and requirements, based on their industry and profession, according to Naghshineh. Those apps can be customized to integrate with various platforms and business tools, but IBM also helps large enterprise develop apps that meet specific infrastructure needs, he says.

“To a large degree what we have done is take that portfolio and bring it to market. We’re going to continue to enhance the portfolio,” Naghshineh says. Backend needs are the most common delay in app development, so the entire cycle to deployment could take weeks or beyond six months, depending on the situation, he says.

United Airlines taps MobileFirst program for new iOS apps

United Airlines is the latest customer to tap IBM’s MobileFirst for iOS program. The world’s third-largest airline by revenue this week announced plans to deploy new apps on more than 50,000 Apple iOS devices in the field. It’s also the third airline to ink a deal with IBM is as many months, following previous announcements with Japan Airlines and Finnair.

"We want to put our employees in a position to deliver exceptional service at every step of the travel experience,” United’s vice president of operations technology Jason Birnbaum said in a statement. "We have incredible employees out in the field who rely on technology to help our customers. The mobile solutions and working closely with IBM and Apple enables us to provide innovative solutions for them on an unprecedented scale.”

[ Related: Apple’s enterprise partnerships, big and small, start to pay off ]

United Airlines employees will also gain freedom to move around the concourse to assist customers, instead of being anchored to a gate podium, the company said. Some of the apps slated for United Airlines employees are ready to deploy through Mobile at Scale for iOS, IBM’s model for rapid design and development, and others will be custom built with the aid of IBM’s design studios and specialized Swift developers, according to the airline.

Amica Mutual Insurance Co. reflects on benefits, IT challenges

Adam Kostecki, claims officer at Amica Mutual Insurance Co., understands the massive undertaking involved in deploying an employee-facing iOS app, and although testing and systems integration was no small feat, he’s pleased with the results and feedback the company has received since it deployed IBM’s Claims Adjust in July.

“We really didn’t have a specific set of requirements or pain points that we wanted to resolve through the application,” he says. “We approached it with an open mind,” and included front-line adjusters throughout the process. Amica integrated six different internal systems into its app and incorporated all of the tools that adjusters use most frequently throughout their day. Paper, voice recorders and digital cameras are no longer required in the field, according to Kostecki.

Amica’s app development initiative was also paired with a company-wide iPad deployment. “All of the field staff across the country have been given iPads and this application,” he said. “We’re seeing about 80 percent utilization in the field and we haven’t mandated that people actually use the application.”

[ Related: Apple and IBM partnership yields 100 iOS enterprise apps ]

The Claims Adjust app is the only employee-facing app deployed by Amica to date, and while it doesn’t have any formal plans for more it is considering future opportunities. “There's a tremendous amount you can do with an iPad. It’s more about making sure that you have sufficient business value behind that, so you can build a business case and deploy it,” Kostecki says.

Amica encountered two major challenges during the development of its app, according to Kostecki. User acceptance testing was the most nagging because of the myriad variables and resources required to deploy an app of such high importance to the business, he says. “The testing effort was resource intensive and it just shouldn’t be underestimated. It took us a good amount of time, longer than we initially expected.”

Amica overcame the testing challenge by bringing more adjusters and specialists from its claim systems teams into the process, according to Kostecki. “It was a good learning [experience] for us to bring in the front lines experience into that user acceptance testing phase,” he says. “Obviously we couldn’t re-architect the application based on their input, but we were able to tweak little parts of it so that it worked best for them. It definitely resulted in a better product.”

Now that at least 80 percent of Amica’s claims adjusters are using the app on a regular basis, the company is looking toward benefits it can deliver for its employees and the entire business, according to Kostecki. “Once we have this technology in the field, how do we reinvent the adjusters jobs in the future to really fully utilize that platform?”

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