Mary and I have braved the remnants of the volcanic ash, and insane taxi drivers in tropical thunderstorms, to arrive safely in Orlando for Research In Motion’s annual Wireless Enterprise Symposium. WES 2010 is the latest instance of RIM’s biggest BlackBerry event, which mixes content for operators, phone vendors, system administrators, and developers. It’s a fascinating event, which shows just how committed the folk from Waterloo are to their growing platform.
And it’s the platform that’s driving everything they do now. Ignore the new phones (shiny as the Pearl 3G may be), as the real news from the pre-conference day here at WES was the arrival of a new version of RIM’s Mobile Voice System. One of the hidden treasures of the BlackBerry platform, MVS brings phone service and network server closer together, turning smartphone into portable deskphone – with all the PABX features you’d expect. The new version, MVS 5.0, brings things even closer together, adding support for WiFi calling.
We sat down with Alan Brenner, RIM’s Senior Vice President BlackBerry Platform, to talk about just what MVS meant, and how BES Express fitted into RIM’s platform vision. He started by talking about the new voice-over-WiFI feature in MVS, looking first at its benefits for the end user. “The value of that capability was clear to everybody involved in house, in the customer base, by popular consensus”. It’s not just the cost savings, either, as you get an immediate connection with high quality voice. He also sees additional value in the viral benefits of MVS, as “You use your BlackBerry as if it were a desk phone to launch a call [from anywhere]; in the car, walking to your office. You switch onto the Wi-Fi network, transfer the call to your desk reliably using your corporate ID. You don’t even need to store colleague phone numbers in the device, just look them up in the corporate address book”. Network administrators like it too, “The fact it can be policy driven and the economics are good”.
But what about telcos? We wondered if they would see MVS as a threat to call revenues. Brenner doesn’t think so. “A lot of our telco channel partners are experiencing congestion on their networks right now, and a lot of them are looking at this as helping them with that problem. [MVS] strengthens the BlackBerry proposition and gives them additional sales opportunity. The net is positive”. He points out that network congestion is pushing operators to offer VOIP to users now, noting that it “Seems to be something got their attention and they're all feeling it”.
Another recent RIM launch was BES Express, a free version of RIM’s BlackBerry Enterprise Server. We asked Brenner about the differences between the two and whether BES Express’ inability to support MVS was a driver for BES sales. Brenner felt that it was important that BES had additional capabilities that wouldn’t be available to BES Express users, “We certainly feel the expectation, and we accept the expectation that we're going to regularly refresh BES with new value. Customers have a ‘what have you done for me lately’ mentality and rightly so - I know I do with companies I do business with. I know we have to do that with BES. And MVS and things like Chalk are a good example”.
So if BES remains a key business for RIM, why BES Express in the first place? Brenner notes that what really drives things for RIM is the idea of BlackBerry as platform. He points out that, “The BES Express direction is driven by interest in participating in broader swathe of the market for enterprise and SMB users and doing the right thing for customers to address those segments. We are, I think, viewing our business as a platform business and thinking about it like that we want to try to address whatever adjacent segments you can address”.
One key driver is the range of devices end users are buying, and the fact that they want to take their personal smartphones to work. So BES Express is aimed to make it easier for businesses to deal with those users, as Brenner says. “This really gets BlackBerry into much more of the market, into ‘bring your own device’ as well as SMB and SOHO.” Brenner also points out that not needing a BlackBerry-specific data plan isn’t a threat to carriers, noting “Carriers last time I checked make their money selling data plans. This gives them a way to take [BlackBerry] to market drive and business data plans as well”.
Interesting times for RIM, and for the BlackBerry.