BlackBerry for enterprise: The comeback kid?

BlackBerry has largely been written off as too late to the next-gen mobile party. Is it that simple? I don't think so.
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor

Most of my colleagues have written off the BlackBerry 10 launch as too little, too late and are concluding that the company has one foot in the grave and the other perilously close to a slippery bar of soap. I'll take a contrarian view.

Regardless of how many Android and iOS devices there are in the world, BlackBerry still has market share. More to the point and as Ewan Spence observes:

Take 2009, where Blackberry had 20 percent of the smartphone market share. That was on the strength of selling 35 million devices. Nowadays how much market share would 35 million get you? Around 5 percent of the market. Similar unit sales, but a vastly different perception of the performance.

I go one step farther. While there may be a concentration of attention on the notion of "bringing your own device" (BYOD) in the enterprise, I see plenty of corporate types toting their BB. They may well also use an iPhone or Android device but they often remain tethered (sic) to their BB. Quite how that is panning out today is an open question.

Back in October 2011, Jason Hiner reported that research indicated BB's enterprise market share in enterprises with more than 10,000 employees was likely to drop from 52 percent to 36 percent during 2012. I've not seen any up-to-date figures but even if share has dropped to say 25 percent, that's still a healthy market. Add in the fact BB is now device agnostic with the latest release of its enterprise services platform and you start to envisage a different outcome. Per Pedro Hernandez:

BES 10 features a fairly robust set of controls for non-BlackBerry devices, not counting Windows Phone.

In the case of iOS devices like iPhone and iPad, BES 10 allows administrators to disable cloud services, require strong passwords, and impose encryption on data backups. Organizations can even opt to silence Siri, a measure that IBM took last year over data-privacy and security concerns. All told, administrators can exert some level of control over most iOS functions, including camera and video functions, security certificates, cloud services, network connectivity, app purchasing, and social media.

Support for Google's Android mobile operating system is limited in comparison. BES 10 enables administrators to enforce password policies, hide the default camera app, and encrypt internal storage. It also supports TouchDown, software that provides Exchange sync services on Android.

On the messaging front, the software supports ActiveSync Gatekeeping to enable access to Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 on both iOS and Android.

OK, so BB isn't quite there, and with device-management competitors popping up left and right, you have to ask whether BB's software and services incumbency is enough to save the day. Larry Dignan thinks it comes down to platform monetization for which I read pricing but I am not as convinced.

Enterprise has plenty of experience with BB and especially its security model with which IT is usually comfortable. As is the case with other technology choices, IT is not given to taking what it sees as unnecessary risks. Even in a BYOD world, if BB can continue to convince IT that it is a safe choice then it has a decent shot at bolstering its flagging fortunes. However, it will need to roll out convincing case material as quickly as possible.

Elsewhere, Vinnie Mirchandani noticed that BB has stuffed its management ranks with telco and enterprise types. He sees this as a backdrop to an unhealthy lock-in for a vendor that hasn't done enough to remain competitive, even in enterprise. He concluded:

Blackberry may never (again) win the mobile features or the ecosystem wars, but if it can get the telcos and CIOs back in its camp, that is a sure way to survive and may be even thrive.

And then there is the developer issue. BB dropped off the developer radar a couple of years back as iOS and Android emerged as much easier and friendlier to build against. Today, BB is offering all sorts of incentives and bounties to get developers back on the train. Bribery--because that's what it is--has always been a good way to at least tempt developers, but my sense is that without insanely easy-to-use tools, the huge Apple/Android consumer markets will be too enticing for your average coder.

Building an eBay or CNN app for which monetization possibilities are slim is no incentive at all. My concern is that there are simply too few mobile developers with enterprise experience who can figure out how to monetize in a broader market. Far safer to stick to building for specific enterprise requirements and businesses than take the risk of inventing something drop-dead gorgeous for a modest or uncertain payback.

As the old saying goes: It ain't over until the fat lady sings, and regardless of the pontifications coming from armchair quarterbacks, only BB really knows how good (or bad) its latest efforts are shaping up. With Mobile World Congress (MWC) coming up toward the end of February, there will be plenty of opportunity to explore this topic further.

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