Founded by Apple Vets, Apperian Gets Down to Business with the iPhone
The Apple iPhone is perhaps the most powerful mobile phone ever built, so it’s no surprise that big enterprises want to use it, both to make their mobile workforces more efficient and to help customers access their products and services in new ways. But Apple, for a variety of reasons, isn’t interested in catering directly to businesses with the features and software they’d like. So enterprise adoption of the iPhone has been ginger and gradual; you’re far more likely to see sales reps, insurance adjusters, or delivery van drivers carrying Windows Mobile or Blackberry devices than iPhones.
To fill the void left by Apple, and to show how businesses can take advantage of the device’s capabilities, a team of former Apple executives and developers has split off from the company to form Apperian, a Boston-based, iPhone-centric software consultancy that opened its doors in January.
Apperian founder and CEO Chuck Goldman says the company has a two-fold mission: “Number one is helping companies leverage their existing technology investments in smartphones more effectively, by mobilizing workforces and bringing applications to handheld devices; and number two, and more compelling and exciting, is helping large companies really extend their brands and provide transformative, next-generation, point-of-service applications to customers.”
I’ll explain what Goldman means by “point-of-service” in a minute; it’s pretty interesting. But first a bit of Apperian’s back story. (The name is pronounced “Appear-ian.”) For eight years prior to starting the consultancy, Goldman was at Apple, where he ran the professional services division—the part of the company responsible for encouraging big, Fortune1000 companies to switch from Windows to Macintosh. Once the iPhone was launched in mid-2007, he took on additional duties as manager of Apple’s so-called “iPhone Enterprise Beta Program,” which had a dual focus: making sure that iPhones worked as “first-class citizens” in corporate data networks, to use Goldman’s words, and building actual applications that companies could run on the phones.
But Apple subsequently decided that creating enterprise applications “was not really a business that they wanted to be in,” Goldman told me in an interview yesterday. “They don’t really develop applications for third parties. And if they did, they’d be taking on the risk and liability of making sure that the software functions right, that it doesn’t crash anyone’s iPhone, that it doesn’t take down the network. Not that any of that would ever happen, but it’s something they really don’t want to get into, because of the liability.” (For the thousands of third-party apps distributed through the iTunes App Store, the developers themselves bear this liability, not Apple.)
That created “a fantastic opportunity to build a business that is outside of Apple and that would still be critical to Apple’s ecosystem,” says Goldman. Big software consulting and integration firms like IBM and Accenture haven’t traditionally helped their customers with Apple products, so they don’t have engineers who know the Mac OS X operating system (a version of which runs on the iPhone). And Apple’s existing network of consultants focus mainly on niches like desktop publishing and video production. “That leaves a real niche right now for a company like Apperian to come in and bring three things: knowledge of Apple and specifically Mac OS X development; size and scale, to the point where enterprises could work with us; and a real eye on next-generation applications—not just the thousands of kitschy, utility-based apps in the App Store, but higher enterprise-level applications.”
Apperian launched on January 15 with a combination of angel and “strategic” funding, according to Goldman. (He declined to say whether the strategic investors include Apple itself, but that wouldn’t be a bad guess.) The company has a staff of 12 executives, developers, and program managers, spread across offices in San Francisco, Reston, VA, and Boston, where Goldman has lived for the last 15 years. (He says he won’t miss the commute to Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, CA.) Goldman’s brother Barry is the company’s chief financial officer.
When you hear companies talk about “mobilizing workforces,” the first thing you probably imagine is executives or sales reps using their smartphones to access company e-mail or spreadsheets or log on to mobile versions of sales force automation tools and other standard enterprise applications. And indeed, that’s the sort of thing that companies like Watertown, MA-based Enterprise Mobile help companies do (using Windows Mobile devices, in Enterprise Mobile’s case).
But that’s not Apperian’s specialty at all. Its developers are more interested in building brand-new business applications that take advantage of the iPhone’s unique combination of features, such as its multitouch interface, its GPS- and WiFi-based location finding ability, and its built-in accelerometer and camera. Goldman walked me through two examples of apps the company is developing right now for big corporate customers:
• For a large automobile insurer, Apperian is working on an application that would let insured drivers submit insurance claims directly from accident sites. (That’s what Goldman means by “point of service”—using the phone to take care of a situation where and when you need to.) “You get in an accident, you whip out your iPhone. The phone knows where you are. You take a picture of the accident scene. With a few clicks using a preformatted template, you send in a report. You’re on your way, and you get your claim adjusted quickly.”
• For a big commercial real estate company, Apperian is creating a mobile property management system designed to free agents from the hassles created by being in the field so much of the time. “Currently, all these agents have laptops and cell phones, and they’re ducking into the closest Starbucks and trying to access their corporate databases. They’re faxing blueprints. It’s a very manual process. With an iPhone app, they’ll have always-on access to everything that their prospective clients need. They can…flip through building portfolios, bring them up on a map, use a ‘Near Me’ functionality—the Loopt functionality—to see whether all their other agents are. Agents will have lease information at their fingertips, laser-measured blueprints that they can e-mail to clients right from their phone.”
Goldman calls these kinds of applications “truly transformative—way beyond any customer relationship management or sales force automation-type application.” And he thinks they’re only the beginning. “If you look at combining core location, multitouch, the accelerometer, and all the other amazing things in the SDK [the iPhone software development kit], we have just begun to scratch the surface.”
Though Goldman can’t yet name any of Apperian’s clients, he says they include “some unbelievable billion-dollar customers.” And when it comes to selling projects, the startup’s roots at Apple don’t hurt. “We have a great relationship with Apple,” says Goldman. “We can’t claim that we’re ‘officially supported by Apple’—no one gets that. But they are highly encouraged by Apperian.”
Which they should be. “The bottom line is that we are going to help them sell thousands more iPhones and laptops into enterprises, because we are going to be developing software not only for iPhones but for OS X,” Goldman says. “We’re going to help enterprise mobility truly take form on the Apple platform.”
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