Humble BlackBerry pins Australian hopes on refocus

As BlackBerry's executive ranks are cleaned out, its Australian team led by MD Matt Ball is attempting to save its corporate customer base through a switch from devices to its device management service.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

In a move that is all but raising the white flag to the incoming flood of iOS and Android devices into businesses and government departments as part of the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend, BlackBerry is pitching to its Australian customers to consider BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 and its mobile device management capabilities that are now open to its device rivals.

It is no secret that the Canadian giant is in a rough patch. After ditching its CEO earlier this month, BlackBerry announced overnight that it would also be getting rid of its chief operating officer, chief marketing officer, and chief financial officer as the company aims to turn around its fortunes by mid-2015.

Australian managing director Matt Ball said that in Australia and New Zealand, starting that turnaround is about "shouting from the rooftops" that BlackBerry means more to enterprise and the SMB market than just the handsets, which businesses are increasingly moving away from as employees demand more traditional consumer devices like iPhones and Android handsets. Ball said that it is about recognising that the company has more to offer than just a handset.

"I think that it was a big change for BlackBerry. Historically, we were end-to-end line business, and didn't deviate from that, but I think in terms of lessons learned, we probably could have done that a bit earlier, in terms of opening it up to other platforms," he said.

"But we're here now, so we certainly invented the MDM space with BES [BlackBerry Enterprise Services]; we were just a little bit late or slow to opening up the platform."

He said that in approaching BlackBerry's existing customer base in Australia, it is already seeing "some really good results".

"I think a key part of that transition is moving to a slightly more humble place around what's happening in the market, and what a customer is actually wanting," he said.

"I think a key part of that was starting from the actual customer rather than starting from the technical capability."

Ball said that BlackBerry sees its future in the BES 10 platform.

"From the customer, whether it be SMB or enterprise, the feedback we were getting was absolutely, there are sections of the organisation that want to maintain and need full security in a BlackBerry end-to-end solution with BlackBerry hardware and the rest, but in other organisations, they had iOS and Android whether it was a BYO device or choose your own device," he said.

BES 10 would help close the divide between letting staff choose their own device and keeping the company's expected level of security, Ball said.

"MDM as a category isn't new, and BYOD isn't new, but I think what has always been the case is the desire or appetite for it to be secure."

The BlackBerry enterprise team has been approaching existing customers and talking to them about how their needs have changed, while for new customers, the approach has been focusing on what the company can offer businesses who may never have considered the company to be anything more than just the handset manufacturer.

"The lead isn't necessarily about rolling out a fleet of BlackBerry devices; it starts with 'tell us about your environment and what your needs are'," he said.

"It's something we're really having to scream from the rooftops, because BlackBerry talking about iOS and Android hasn't historically been something we've talked about, let alone advertised."

BlackBerry is also working with the Australian Signals Directorate to get its BES 10 software certified for use within the government, Ball said.

Despite the new-found love of all things Android and iOS, Ball said the company is still heartened by the slight jump in handset sales locally.

"According to Kantar research, we tripled our market share in that quarter, which is great. I'm pretty proud of the fact that the team were able to achieve that in a really rocky quarter for us," he said.

"For us, it was a bit of an anomaly to increase market share in a time when there was so much uncertainty with what was happening with the business."

In the quarter, BlackBerry almost tripled its market share in three months from 0.5 percent to 1.3 percent. The quarter ended just 10 days after the launch of the iPhone 5s and 5c.

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