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Why IBM Is Excited About the ‘Special Partnership’ Between Apple, SAP

It just might be the business software world’s biggest love triangle. Two of IBM’s closest partners—Apple and SAP—are getting together with the mutual aim of kick-starting the use of mobile apps in the corporate world.

IBM (IBM) isn’t explicitly mentioned as part of the pact disclosed Thursday, but its presence looms large and the company’s global services chief Bridget van Kralingen is almost gleeful about the potential for getting in on the action.

After all, IBM is tight with both companies. SAP (SAP) is one of its closest allies for cloud services, and the two renewed their vows in early April. The two years since IBM and Apple (AAPL) teamed up to co-create a series of business mobile apps have also been fruitful: as of December, there were more than 100 of them in the ever-expanding catalog across a broad range of industries. Not coincidentally, van Kralingen was intimately involved negotiating the prenuptial details of both deals, if you will, in her role as senior vice president of IBM Global Services.

“You’ve got this confluence of skills—interactive experience and design, combined with strong analytics, all within the context of a specific industry,” she told Fortune.

Now that Apple has teamed up with SAP too, IBM’s consulting teams can work on an even broader range of mobile apps that link more closely to SAP’s widely used array of back-office systems, van Kralingen said.

She describes these relationships as more “strategically intense and more open” than previous alliances, and suggests we brace for more.

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A joint project announced this week by IBM and eye-care company Bausch + Lomb, a subsidiary of Valeant Pharmaceuticals, points to the sort of future that van Kralingen is describing. Together, the companies are developing a custom mobile app that ophthalmologists can use to plan and guide cataract extraction surgery—the most common procedure undergone by Medicare beneficiaries. (Up to 30 million Americans will be diagnosed with cataracts by 2020, so that’s a pretty big “target audience.”)

The app will house electronic medical records as well as clinical data meant to help surgeons select the best replacement lens for an individual patient. The clincher: it will also be “cognitive,” using IBM’s machine learning and Watson analytics resources to collect and analyze data in real time. That means more need for number-crunching, ala IBM cloud services. Testing of the app is set to begin in late 2016, according to the companies.

The SAP-IBM-Apple relationship triangle will make it far simpler for companies to build and expand highly personalized apps of this nature that are iterative—meaning that they can be changed over time as new data, processes, and business models emerge. “The way it comes together is through advanced analytics mixed with consumer-grade experiences,” van Kralingen said.