BlackBerry opens up its devices to rival management systems

The one thing keeping BlackBerry in business is its enterprise base. They need to be managed by its mobile device management software. The move is surprising to say the least.

Image: BlackBerry

BlackBerry will allow rival mobile device management software makers access to its BlackBerry devices, signaling a shift in how the company is facing its turnaround efforts.

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The former phone-making giant said on Tuesday it has struck an accord with VMware-owned AirWatch, Citrix, and IBM to be the first companies to manage its new BlackBerry 10 smartphones with their own respective software suites.

It's a spin-around from BlackBerry's current software offering, which was expanded to support not just its own BlackBerry-branded phones, but also iPhones, iPads, and Android devices. The company says helps to cater for the full array of devices on internal corporate networks.

The plan to allow rivals to support its phones appears — at least on the face of it — to put the company at a competitive disadvantage in an area it still considers to be a strong and feasible segment of its core business — its enterprise software unit.

But BlackBerry's enterprise chief John Sims said in a blog post that the move will give customers "increased flexibility and choice in their mobile device environments."

"MDM has become table stakes; it is no longer a meaningful point of differentiation. The differentiation for BlackBerry in the future will be our ability to enable secure, productive mobile communications, collaboration and other applications," he added.

BlackBerry makes this move at a time when it remains financially embattled. Its new BlackBerry 10 phones, released more than a year ago, failed to pick up sales, which led to the departure of former chief executive Thorsten Heins. Once Heins was shown the door, newly installed CEO John Chen, who previously headed up Sybase, introduced Sims to the company. Both men have been known to turn troubled firms into profit-making machines.

The company remains in a bitter rivalry with Samsung, which offers its own mobile device management software. BlackBerry'remains focused on its software -- rather than just its mobile hardware offering -- in efforts to kick its finances back into gear. 

Sims said that the only true secure environment for BlackBerry users is a BlackBerry device managed by a BlackBerry server, because it runs end-to-end secure communications through the device, server, and network level.

That positions BlackBerry above and ahead of its rivals, he added.

But it doesn't mean the company won't stop supporting other devices that work within an existing BlackBerry environment

"With BES12 planned for late this calendar year, we will continue to support iOS, Android, Windows, BlackBerry 10 and BlackBerry OS devices. This means BlackBerry is the only company that can support the full range of an organization’s mobility management requirements," Sims said.

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