The biggest pitch RIM makes for businesses to adopt BlackBerry devices is that they are a lot more secure and easier for IT to manage, which -- more than the devices themselves -- is made possible by the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) backend. RIM appears to have accepted that it's living in a pluralistic mobile world and that it can no longer use BES to force companies to only support BlackBerry devices because on Monday at BlackBerry World 2011 RIM announced plans for a multiplatform upgrade to BES that will allow it to also support and manage iPhone, iPad, and Android smartphones and tablets.
Photo credit: Jason Hiner
At the opening press conference of BlackBerry World 2011 in Orlando, RIM admitted that CIOs have been pressuring the company to allow BES to iOS and Android devices in addition to BlackBerry devices.
In order to make this happen quickly, RIM announced that it is acquiring ubitexx, which makes a cross-platform device management solution that not only support iOS and Android, but also Microsoft and Nokia devices. The upgraded version of BES will be released "later this year."
RIM was careful to note: "Overall, as is largely understood in the enterprise market today, organizations can expect a range of security, manageability and controls depending on different device platform capabilities, with some devices further limited by the design of their operating system."
In other words, not all of the devices have a great security model for how they handle data, encryption, remote administration, etc. That's where RIM will still pitch the BlackBerry as the most secure and IT-controllable device, while also offering some backend management for other devices, especially the ones users themselves are bringing into the organization.
The other big update to BES that RIM announced was a new and improved Web console for IT administrators. Here's RIM's description (from the official press release):
The single web-based console is being designed to provide IT administrators with a simple and efficient way to distribute software and manage policies, inventory, security and services for BlackBerry devices, as well as other mobile devices. IT administrators will be able to manage devices over-the-air, including activating devices, distributing software and applications, locking or wiping devices, enforcing and resetting device passwords, setting IT policies, and managing optional mobile applications for end users. Certain features are expected to remain exclusive to BlackBerry devices because such capabilities are built into the design of a device's operating system. Examples include RIM's industry-leading push technology, network and data usage efficiency, behind-the-firewall access to enterprise applications and systems, and many of the over 550 IT policies available through BlackBerry Enterprise Server.
Overall, it's hard to see the cross-platform play as anything but a wise move for RIM. It allows the company to play to its strengths and continue to sell its CIO-favorite BES platform to high-security environments like governments and financial services companies that no longer want or need an all-BlackBerry solution. And, for the companies that implement BES as a cross-platform solution, it still allows RIM to pitch BlackBerry devices as an upsell for security and manageability.
However, the most important factor may be RIM acknowledging that it's going to have to survive in a mobile world where it's no longer the king of the hill -- even in the enterprise. It's also good to see RIM beefing up and putting the spotlight on BES, which could turn out to be the company's more valuable asset in the long run than BlackBerry devices, which are in the midst of a difficult and uncertain platform transition as well as intense competition from Apple, Google, and Microsoft.