IBM Announces MobileFirst Mobile Computing Initiative

IBM has announced a major mobile computing initiative, named MobileFirst, backed by new and upgraded app development, security, and management systems backed by consulting and cloud services and designed for both IBM’s large enterprise customers and the SMB market. The products and services are user-device agnostic, with a write-once, run-on-everything approach where everything means “all the major device platforms (iOS, Android, Windows 8, Blackberry) and whatever that blood pressure cuff is running on,” says Jerry Cuomo, VP of Mobile Strategy and CTO.

MobileFirst is backed by a major commitment and multi-year investment by IBM and based on its experience working with more than 1,000 customers to manage their BYOD environments. It incorporates technology from several acquisitions IBM has made in the last few years in the mobile arena. It does not include an IBM tablet or smartphone, and does not use virtual data infrastructure (VDI).

MobileFirst is a third major alternative for managing mobile computing. It allows customers to develop and manage their own mobile apps or have IBM develop those apps for them either in the native code for a particular end-device in its native code, or all major platforms in Javascript with or without customization for each device. Similarly, the management and security services work equally with all four major mobile platforms.

Customers have the choice of licensing the MobileFirst tool set and running them in-house, with or without assistance from IBM consulting, or subscribing the the MobileFirst service in the IBM Cloud. Subscribers can use the tools in the cloud to manage their own mobile environment or turn management over to IBM.

The MobileFirst tool set includes:

  • the IBM MobileFirst Platform with major updates including expanding capabilities of IBM Worklight to simplify deployment and single sign-on for multiple mobile apps on multiple platforms.
  • IBM MobileFirst Security with added vulnerability scanning capabilities supporting current releases of all major platforms.
  • IBM MobileFirst Management with updates to IBM Endpoint Manager enhancing support for BYOD and increased security standards for government and regulated environments.
  • IBM MobileFirst Analytics that provide more visual insight into mobile behaviors.

These are backed by a set of IBM mobile services:<

  • IBM MobileFirst Strategy and Design Services,
  • IBM MobileFirst Development and Integration Services.

It also includes a set of mobile resources and programs for business partners, developers, and academics

Moving Beyond the Device


IBM MobileFirst is focused on the second stage of mobile computing, Cuomo said. The first stage has been all about the mobile devices. The second stage, he said, is about driving business innovation and ultimately profitability, through mobile computing.

One big issue for companies has been keeping up with the fast-changing, heterogeneous mobile environment, both inside many companies and in the marketplace where their customers live. To an extent this is the early PC revolution over again, but on the desktop that soon resolved into two platforms – DOS/Windows and Apple Macintosh. Mobile computing has four – iOS, Android, Windows 8, and Blackberry. But it is much more complicated than that, with the plethora of versions of these platforms including different OS versions, different size and resolution screens, and different underlying memory and compute resources.

Until today companies trying to manage mobile computing for employees had two choices: either standardize on one smartphone and tablet, or move to a virtual desktop environment with a VDI platform that can project their standard image on mobile devices as well as laptops. Both have disadvantages, and neither will work in the larger consumer marketplace where companies want to have a presence on their customers’ phones and tablets.

IBM MobileFirst offers a third choice, the ability to write and maintain apps that will run over all the platforms with customization to make the app conform to the look-and-feel of each platform, and to manage their entire BYOD internal mobile environment with one central set of tools. It accomplishes this with a combination of a clever rethinking of the app development platform along with libraries of pre-developed code for all the platforms and, for management, agents for each platform that can be downloaded and installed on employees devices.

The MobileFirst platform allows developers either to create a single “vanilla” app that runs on all the mobile platforms – anything that can run Javascript – a hybrid version that adds customization for each platform in that platform’s native programming language, or a custom app for a single platform. It does this by supporting development in Javascript and in the native languages of the main mobile platforms in a structure that allows calls between them.

IBM has added a set of libraries of code in the native scripts of the various platforms that developers can add to their apps to evoke the specific look-and-feel and unique features of each platform, so the app appears to be native even if the base code is Javascript. This makes managing and upgrading apps for four different platforms much less complicated.

Device management and security relies in part on small agents that are downloaded into employee’s devices. This allows management of either a single standardized population of devices or a BYOD heterogeneous environment, with fine control that for instance allows central management to wipe data for a specific app from a device without touching the owner’s personal photos and other data.

Finally, IBM gives customers the option of either rolling their own with MobileFirst tools in house or in the IBM Cloud or having IBM do some or all of the support. So for instance IBM can develop custom apps for a customer that wants to handle distribution and management of those apps with its own customers. Or a company can turn over management of its internal mobile environment to IBM if it lacks the internal skills or personnel. All without either trying to dictate mobile device choices to employees – a nonstarter in most organizations – or having to install, test, and manage a VDI system across an enterprise.