BlackBerry has received more than its fair share of media scrutiny over the past year with device trend watchers salivating over much anticipated dramatic news for the Waterloo-based smartphone manufacturer. So far though, BlackBerry has disappointed: last month’s US $1 billion cash infusion from erstwhile buyer Fairfax Holdings, Ltd. and other investors has rescued the company from an acquisition that analysts widely viewed as the beginning of the end, while new leadership has been installed which appears poised to dig trenches around BlackBerry’s primary asset - it’s strength in enterprise markets. As new executive chairperson and interim CEO John Chen noted in an open letter to major customers yesterday, "Reports of our death are greatly exaggerated.... We understand the realities of the enterprise mobility market better than anyone, and we’re in the game for the long term."
BlackBerry’s shift away from its more recent consumer orientation, reflected in the dismissal of CMO Frank Boulben and COO Kristian Tear who were associated with the disappointing launch of the BlackBerry 10 OS (and elimination of these positions), and its return to what Chen called the company’s "heritage business" hails from sober reflection on device markets. Though Carl Howe, VP of the Yankee Group’s consumer research group, has recently pointed to bias in reporting which puts Android at 80% of the market, it is widely agreed that BlackBerry’s fall from hardware market dominance began with introduction of Apple's touch screen iPhone in 2007 and has since turned to plummet. That said, in its new business orientation, BlackBerry is not so much turning away from smartphones as incorporating device trends into its enterprise strategy. Case in point are the investments the company continues to make in enterprise device management technologies, manifested in the development of solutions such as BlackBerry’s cloud-based enterprise mobility management (EMM).
Released this fall, BlackBerry’s EMM offering aims at simple and secure management of information in the cloud for corporate and personal devices across the BlackBerry, iOS and Android platforms. This multi-platform support will be welcome news to IT departments that have moved from resisting the BYOD phenomenon to developing management strategies that acknowledge the immutability of employee device preferences and recognize the potential for corporate savings. Designed to help customers tackle BYOD challenges, platform agnosticism is a relatively new thrust for BlackBerry (though the capability has existed for some time in the BlackBerry Enterprise Service (BES)).
The company is not alone in the development of multi-platform MDM: this has become an increasingly crowded market space with players ranging from the security companies (Symantec), to VDI vendors (Citrix), to enterprise solution providers (IBM), to purveyors of free software (AirWatch) moving in on the game. But as Peter Devenyi, SVP of enterprise software at BlackBerry with responsibility for R&D associated with the enterprise suite of products, explained: "no one has a head start on BlackBerry in the MDM, or EMM space as we now call it. BlackBerry invented this space well over a decade ago with the BlackBerry Enterprise Service, and what is unique about this [particular EMM] offering is that we are offering it as a true cloud solution." While the company continues to offer BES10 for in-house deployment by very large, regulated enterprises or government, for the small to mid-sized enterprise, or for the corporate business unit that operates without discrete IT resources, cloud reduction of the capital and operational costs associated with set up of in-house infrastructure may hold special appeal. According to BlackBerry, "for cost that is less than a cup of coffee per month, companies can tackle BYOD, manage apps and get technical support"
Cloud is not necessarily new to BlackBerry. The company has maintained a consumer cloud for some time through its BlackBerry internet email service, and has established an extensive infrastructure for cloud services to support provisioning and integration with carrier networks. Cloud for the enterprise space is relatively new though: while BlackBerry Cloud Business Services were introduced a couple of years back to support Office 365 users with legacy (07 or earlier) BlackBerry devices, as Devenyi explained, the company is "now taking that to the next level, offering a multi-tenant, rapid deployment solution for iOS, Android and BlackBerry 10 devices, which constitutes an evolution of our heritage and experience in providing cloud services in various dimensions."
Devenyi described BlackBerry’s cloud-based EMM as a very feature rich and "convenient" solution that allows customers to deploy very quickly and easily. With businesses mobile device management (MDM), mobile application management (MAM), security standards, and self-service capabilities for the end-user, the new EMM solution features fast deployment (no software download); easy device activation, app management, security policy configuration and compliance monitoring via a web interface; the ability to build, secure and manage a catalogue of public applications from popular Apple, Google and BlackBerry storefronts; and a self-service console that will allow end-users to independently manage their own devices (set up or changing device passwords and remote wipe and lock) to deliver saving on helpdesk calls. In Devenyi’s view, new app capabilities lie at the heart of the company’s transition from BES MDM, and serve to differentiate BlackBerry’s solution from other vendor offerings: "Mobile device management is really what BES was, and as time went on, capabilities extended MDM. As application management extended MDM, a new vernacular around EMM became more commonplace."
Another key differentiator in this solution is security, which Devenyi described as "an end-to-end security model that is very different from what other solution providers have been able to achieve over the years" - that ranges from secure device and app management behind the corporate firewall (BlackBerry’s signature) to tools that are integrated into the BlackBerry OS, such as Balance which maintains secure separation of corporate and personal user apps. Indeed, some commentators have suggested that by enabling multi-platform support through its software solutions, BlackBerry is giving away the crown jewels - secure communications - in a way that will impact the company’s core hardware business. On this point, Devenyi noted, "we continue to say, nothing is as secure as a BlackBerry device, connected to a BlackBerry Enterprise Service, or a BlackBerry cloud solution in this case, utilizing a BlackBerry network... That’s why many of the largest corporations and governments around the world continue to rely on BlackBerry. It’s also true that the BYOD phenomenon is real and growing. For us to remain strong in this space, we must bring the core advantages that we have brought to BlackBerry to manage these other devices as well, otherwise competitors in this space will find their way into corporations. We listen to our customers who love the BlackBerry solution, are managing a plethora of devices and want a single management solution."
Is this approach working? As "proof" that BlackBerry is "doing very well" John Chen noted in his open letter that:
- Our EMM customer base is much larger than any of the other vendors in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Mobile Device Management — and is growing.
- We manage more mobile devices than any other vendor. Period.
- We move more secure mobile data than anyone else.
- We have substantial cash and are not a small VC-backed "pure play" MDM player seeking additional funds every year.
Today, BlackBerry released the BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 (BES10) version 10.2 with expanded multi-platform support and BYOD enrollment for iOS and Android. The company claims nearly 30,000 BES10 commercial and test servers are installed around the world. You can participate too: BES10 version 10.2 server software is free to download at www.bes10.com.