BlackBerry's CEO speaks frankly about comeback plans with new enterprise platform

BlackBerry CEO John Chen outlines the phone maker's latest enterprise developments, strategy and vision in San Francisco.
Written by Rachel King, Contributor

SAN FRANCISCO---BlackBerry unloaded a slew of new enterprise mobility products, which together not only stress collaboration among its users but with other tech industry players as well.

Speaking at the opulent Intercontinental Mark Hopkins Hotel on Thursday, CEO John Chen didn't waste time before asserting "this is a very serious day" for both BlackBerry and himself amid his one year anniversary with the beleaguered mobile business.

"A big goal of ours from Day 1 -- and this is now Day 365 -- we know we need to have a server that integrates," said Chen. "Today is that day that we've been working hard for the entire year."

Chen outlined BlackBerry's "three-part strategy" to rebuild: financial, enterprise and distribution. With Thursday's announcements, Chen said BlackBerry is now moving into the enterprise segment of that journey.

"Some of you are a little bit more bullish than I am, but I'm doing the job and you're not," Chen said frankly, previewing that next year will be about "growth and profit." But he warned that BlackBerry still needs time to get there.

Chen stipulated strongly that BlackBerry "did not cut back on R&D," hinting that this has been vital to BlackBerry's intended comeback. As a result, Chen continued, not only was BlackBerry able to recently unveil new devices such as the Passport smartphone but also new applications coming out soon.

Last month, Chen penned an open letter lambasting the ubiquitous buzzword "innovation" as one that is tossed around "too often and carelessly," going further to suggest "there’s also something to be said for the classic adage, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it."

Chen hinted there was nothing wrong with BlackBerry to begin with and should have just kept developing what it already did best while championing the feel and nostalgia of "BlackBerry Classic."

Following up on that memo, Chen announced on Thursday that the Classic device will indeed be unveiled in New York City on December 17. Furthermore, pulling a shiny candy apple red smartphone out of his pocket, Chen confirmed a limited edition version of the Passport will become available on Black Friday, November 28.


BlackBerry chief operating officer Marty Beard postulated during the invite-only event that in a mobile-first world, security entails new demands with plenty of risks. But mobile is only risky, Beard reminded the ballroom audience, if the "enterprise closes its eyes to it."

Mobile has become the preferred access point for hackers, Beard suggested, adding that both mobile and its associated risks are now ubiquitous across the organization and supply chain.

"Bottom line is no business can afford to get mobility wrong anymore," Beard insisted.

Beard highlighted a recent survey conducted by BlackBerry by polling more than 800 corporate participants worldwide. Approximately 70 percent of respondents affirmed they are "tolerant" of risk. The most glaring fact, according to Beard, was what he defined as a "major gap" in which people understand if they poorly manage mobile devices, then risk obviously increases.

"But then they sheepishly admit they're not taking action to mitigate it," Beard lamented, arguing organizations have become too lax in guarding against risk.

At the heart of BlackBerry's upgraded software suite is the new BES12 cross-platform, enterprise mobility management solution. BES12 is being pegged as both the foundation of BlackBerry's enterprise portfolio and the command center for connected apps, machines and data. Designed for public, private, and hybrid cloud environments, BES12 is scalable up for to 25,000 devices per server while supporting iOS, Android and Windows Phone devices beyond just BlackBerry.

John Sims, president of global enterprise solutions at BlackBerry, summed up BES12 as "the culmination of tens of thousands of hours" over the last year following many discussions with customers and analysts. He promised BES12 was been designed specifically to balance the needs of IT and interests of employees.

Within BES12, BlackBerry is building in extra support for Samsung Galaxy smartphones and tablets embedded with Knox, Samsung's own enterprise mobility management platform intended to address the Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) trend in the workplace.

BlackBerry promised that the availability of BES12 for Samsung Galaxy devices will boost security "from kernel to apps" with more core enhancements especially for Android, promising to reduce threats that slip by application security guards when threats still make it through.

Scheduled to roll out early next year, pricing for the BES12-Knox link has not been announced yet. Samsung will also resell BES12 to joint Samsung-BlackBerry customers while BlackBerry will support Knox through BES12 subscriptions.

BlackBerry added it forged a similar partnership with Salesforce.com to connect BES12 with the CRM giant's cloud.

Also new to the portfolio is BBM Meetings, a cross-platform voice and video conferencing solution for Android, Windows PC, and Mac users as well as BlackBerry devices.

BlackBerry Messenger fans might be delighted to learn they will be able to use BBM Meetings to turn any BBM chat (either person-to-person, group chat, or voice call) into a BBM video conferencing session.

With a ceiling at 25 participants maximum, BlackBerry boasted the ease-of-use being that BBM Meetings can be launched immediately without the entanglements of conference IDs, passcodes and PIN numbers typically required for enterprise collaboration solutions.

BBM itself is being shored up with an extra layer of security with the addition of BBM Protected, which is also becoming available for iOS and Android in December.

BlackBerry is pushing BES12 out the door with force. The Canadian company has already tapped several major telecommunications providers worldwide, including Verizon Wireless, Vodafone and Orange France to start offering BES12 immediately. BlackBerry has also enlisted wireless distributor giant Brightstar to deploy the BES12 architecture.

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