Earlier this month, IBM announced their plans to acquire Fiberlink, a longstanding player in the realm of mobile device management and enterprise mobility management as a service. In a recent interview, Aberdeen Daily News Network Editorial Director Jim Rapoza spoke to Aberdeen Group Research Director Andrew Borg, who heads up the Enterprise Mobility & Collaboration practice, about the potential impact of the IBM-Fiberlink deal.

RAPOZA: Today (November 13, 2013), IBM announced their agreement to acquire Fiberlink and their flagship product MaaS360. In some ways, this is surprising news and in some ways it’s not, especially given the pace of acquisitions in similar areas by IBM in the last couple of years. What’s your immediate reaction to the news of IBM buying Fiberlink.

BORG: I think there are a number of key points. One is that it acknowledges that the cloud is essential and that a mobile strategy without an integrated cloud component on a management level, not just as an endpoint but as management of the entire ecosystem in the cloud as a service, is something that IBM didn’t have. And I think that partially what it does is that it shows that their current endpoint manager strategy is not complete. And that the gap can be well filled by the capabilities of Fiberlink and its people.

RAPOZA: One thing that jumps out to me. I tend to think of Fiberlink as one of the most agile of the businesses that have been in this area. They’ve been active moving into the evolution of EMM, you mentioned cloud. What they are today is a different thing than what many tend to think of as classic mobile device management. Can they keep up that pace of evolution in an IBM environment?

BORG: Fiberlink was a real innovator. They were the first mobility as a service solution of any kind, before cloud was even a fashionable word. They’ve been in the business since 1991. And their vision from the beginning was to manage mobility as a service versus as an on-premise solution. They were way out ahead of this. Many others, ourselves not included, didn’t take them seriously for a while. Because it wasn’t clear even three years ago that cloud services would be acceptable in the enterprise. There was still a lot to be proven around security, reliability, five nines, etc. The industry has now learned a lot in that interim and I think that Fiberlink has continued to innovate. For them, it’s been a pretty steady evolution, it’s not been disruptive or revolutionary in any way from their perspective internally, they’ve just built a platform, and they’ve been extending that platform to include application management, app wrapping, to include the entire enterprise mobility management lifecycle. So it’s really IBM that’s playing catch-up here, not Fiberlink.

RAPOZA: That’s an important point. Up front I talked about all of the acquisitions IBM has made in this area over the last few years, starting with BigFix, then with Tealeaf, Trusteer, etc. In some ways its good from an IBM standpoint where you look and say, OK they understand where they need to go, what they’re missing. But the question of, do all of these parts fit together well, kind of jumps to mind. It does seem like there are a lot of moving parts here. Do you think, based on the way the strategy has gone together, that these will fit together seamlessly?

BORG: That was one of my questions to them during the announcement. I don’t think they responded in any way that was testy. They understood the challenge and Phil Buckellew (VP of Enterprise Mobile for IBM Software Group) addressed it directly by saying that the reason that they were so hot to acquire Fiberlink in particular, was that they felt that Fiberlink really understood the end user requirements and had built a user experience that they want to use as a model for endpoint management generally. So that was an encouraging sign. Phil is certainly a smart guy and understands what’s going on in the market. But I think the point here was that they are not looking to necessarily subsume Fiberlink into endpoint manager, but possibly the reverse or some hybrid.

Now, IBM has proven that they are serious about, this is a bad term I’m going to use but, for lack of a better, cross breeding their acquisitions into each other. So it’s not up to the customer to do the integration, IBM is doing that integration over time. Part of my question to them today was, what’s your time frame for this level of integration? I didn’t get a direct answer to that, which is understandable since they just announced the intent to acquire today. But I would say that that would be the challenge. What is their timeframe for integration? Because what you don’t want to do is have piece parts delivered to a client site and expect to have IBM services have to knit it together as an integration exercise. That is not what the end users are looking for. They are looking for a much deeper level of integration, a seamless user experience and a well designed user interface. And so just assembling the right parts in the right order is not enough anymore.

So to recap. Only time will tell, but they have shown, certainly with Worklight, and the integration with Tealeaf and Worklight, and Endpoint Manager with Worklight, that they know how to do that now. So I would say that the odds are pretty good that they are going to pull it off. The question is, how long will it take? My guess would be about a year. That’s just an off the cuff guess. It’s not going to happen overnight but a year is pretty fast these days.

RAPOZA: That kind of leads into my last question. When you talk about the evolution of how this is clearly part of IBM’s MobileFirst strategy, I think eventually everything does have to be mobile first, Do you think that when IBM talks about MobileFirst, are they talking from a reality standpoint or from a goal based standpoint, that they want to become mobile first? And how close do you think they are to getting there?

BORG: That’s a good question. MobileFirst is a good marketing banner. I think that part of your question is, what’s the reality underneath that banner? Without a doubt they are serious about mobility and it’s not just marketing. So then the question becomes, how successfully are they executing it. It could be argued that it is taking longer than end users might want, but their goals are very broad, they intend to do this at the IBM scale, to be global, to be enterprise class, to scale from multinationals down to mid-size organizations. That’s a lot of territory to cover, but they are intent on covering it, and they made very clear that they are not necessarily done with acquisitions, that this is part of an evolving strategy and from their perspective the market is still very young. I don’t really argue with that, I think that mobility, I wouldn’t call it in its infancy, but it certainly is in its young versus old age. A lot more innovation is yet to happen and I think IBM has already shown that they are entirely committed to this and that they are going to put forth the necessary resources to either grow, in their words, in-organically, that is through acquisition, or organically through innovation on their own part. And then they look to combine the best of both approaches. I think they are dead serious about it and I think they are highly likely to be successful, because there is a real need for organizations to have the single source of an integrated vision for mobility.

For more on the topic, read my initial thoughts on the acquisition in IBM Moves to Put Mobile First with Fiberlink Acquisition.

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