BlackBerry's WatchDox buy: An appeal to those that have moved onto new platforms

With its acquisition of document security firm WatchDox, BlackBerry hopes to re-appeal to former customers who have moved on to other platforms.

Down but certainly not out, once dominant mobile firm BlackBerry is joining the more than 300 multinationals who have research and development centers in Israel.

On Tuesday, BlackBerry announced that it was acquiring Israeli data security firm WatchDox, which provides a rule-based system that limits access to documents on a server or in the cloud. The acquisition, BlackBerry CEO John Chen said, "represents another key step forward as we transition BlackBerry into the premier platform for secure mobile communications software and applications, supporting all devices and operating systems."

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WatchDox's iPad Interface. Image: WatchDox

According to industry sources, BlackBerry is paying about $100m for the company.

With the acquisition, BlackBerry becomes the latest major smart device company to open an R&D center in Israel.

Google has a major presence in Israel, as does Samsung, with two R&D centers. Apple just inaugurated a 750 person R&D center in suburban Tel Aviv, and as of last week, Nokia, which already had some operations in Israel, was set to grow its Israeli presence significantly with its planned acquisition of Alcatel-Lucent. Alcatel-Lucent has hundreds of workers in Israel, who are developing many of its Cloudband apps. In addition, most of the companies that supply the components, chips, screens, security, and other technology to manufacturers including AT&T, Broadcom, Intel, Marvell, and Microsoft have a significant presence in Israel.

Canadian BlackBerry believes WatchDox will be able to help it expand its services and possibly win back some of the enterprise clientele who have jumped ship in recent years.

WatchDox secures the data on different devices and operating systems, "offering true data-centric security with multiple deployment capabilities both on-premises and in the cloud. It gives BlackBerry a strong foundation to build solutions for a customer base that is already strongly aligned with BlackBerry's core values of security and reliability," Billy Ho, BlackBerry's EVP of enterprise products and value added solutions, wrote on BlackBerry's official blog .

WatchDox provides user-level controls to limit access to documents of all kinds. A user can 'lock' a document altogether, preventing its editing or even viewing based on user identity, IP address, operating system, group, role, device, date, and other criteria. The system works on any device, because the security is associated not with the device or the operating system, but with the data. With a cross-platform product BlackBerry will more easily be able to offer products to users who may in the past have been BlackBerry customers, but have moved on to other devices.

"Our expansion into cross-platform functionality only deepens our commitment to secure mobility," said Ho. The acquisition "gives BlackBerry a strong foundation to build solutions for a customer base that is already strongly aligned with BlackBerry's core values of security and reliability." According to Ho, WatchDox's products will be offered as part of BlackBerry's security packages for customers.

Among WatchDox's customers is investment firm Blackstone, which uses the system to keep sensitive documents from prying eyes. "One of the most critical issues that every institution faces is a sensitive document ending up in the wrong hands," said William Murphy, managing director and chief technology officer of Blackstone. "With the WatchDox platform, we can quickly and easily disable anybody from accessing that document."

Despite now being owned by BlackBerry, "our customers should expect business with WatchDox to continue as usual," WatchDox CEO and founder Moti Rafalin said in a note to customers.

"Perhaps even more importantly, customers will benefit from the integration of our two companies' products to form the industry's most complete and secure solution for enterprise mobility and collaboration."

Rafalin continued: "I'm also extremely excited that the acquisition of WatchDox will form the heart of a new BlackBerry R&D center in Israel."

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