We now know that next January, to coincide with the launch of BlackBerry 10, RIM are making available a whole bunch of resources to help enterprises make the transition from the old RIM devices (your BlackBerry 7 Curves, Bolds, and the like) over to the new shininess that is BlackBerry 10.
Those resources and attended incentives are packaged up in something called the "BlackBerry 10 Ready Program".
Question is -- if this ends up being anything more than a "click and go" upgrade, wouldn't you just be better diverging off of the RIM platform altogether?
The way this works is this. To run BlackBerry 7 devices, as an enterprise you will have Exchange installed. You will also have a BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) sitting in your data center that shuttles data between Exchange and the handsets. Throughout RIM's history this both the handset OS components and the server components have been built, from the ground-up, by RIM.
(In this article I'll be referring to "BES v5" to mean the existing product that manages BlackBerry 7 devices and earlier.)
In today's language, we'd tend to look at BES v5 as a mobile device management (MDM) product. What MDM does, regardless of mobility platform, is allow the business to drive down management policies. Things like "this device needs to have a password". It also allows you to wipe and kill a device that's no longer in the enterprises purview. There is also the idea of mobile application management (MAM), which is where the enterprise allows you to push down private apps and control which apps the user can install. Any more than a tiny number of handsets and you need a competent MDM/MAM story in place.
In the new world of BlackBerry 10, having seen the writing on the wall from the competition, RIM have junked their old systems and have bought in new systems which they have made their own by liberal application of software engineering. The handset's new operating system is based on QNX, a technology that they bought back in summer 2010.
The replacement for BES is based on a product called 'Mobile Fusion', but will be renamed BlackBerry Enterprise Service (BES 10). Like BlackBerry 10, BES 10 isn't something RIM has owned throughout its history, it's something that they've built on top of a product that they've bought in.
The important part here is that there's a split. Neither part of the puzzle is an evolution of the main software stack that existing, deployed systems are based on. The fact that they are owned by RIM and marketed as "BlackBerry" isn't relevant from an engineering perspective.
So, the part of the "Ready Program" that I'm interested in here is a series of webcasts and other supporting resources to help the business upgrade to BES 10. It got me thinking -- if upgrading to BlackBerry 10 and BES 10 is so easy, why are they having to educate people how to do it?
Putting together a bunch of resources to help customers is both expected, and responsible. Of course RIM should help customers with the upgrade. It's perhaps unfair of me to just assume that the upgrade process will be difficult just because they're trying to support customers with it. My point is more subtle...
The problem here is that, unlike past BES upgrades and past handset upgrades, the move to BlackBerry 10 and BES 10 is a cold, hard reboot. In fact, it's more than a reboot. It's taking the entire thing apart, melting it down for constituent materials, selling those materials on the open market, taking the cash from the sales, and then R&D'ing and entirely new replacement product from scratch based on stuff you've bought from somewhere else. It's a reboot so fundamental and vast in scope that it redefines the very notion of what we mean by a "reboot".
First thing we need to understand is that BES 10 is not just a product for managing BlackBerry 10. It can manage iOS and Android devices as well. Thus, if you put BES 10 in your organisation you can bring-your-own-device (BYOD) and/or enterprise supply any combination of BlackBerry 7 devices (you'll still need your BES v5 if you do this), BlackBerry 10, iOS, and Android.
But take this Gartner Magic Quadrant on MDM from May this year. Gartner didn't include Mobile Fusion in that report because (emphasis mine):
RIM is just getting to commercial availability of its MDM platform, Mobile Fusion. Although it doesn't meet this year's criteria because of market launch timing, it does have an installed base of 10,000 enterprises that it can target. RIM won't bring any new capabilities to managing iOS and Android this year that others can't do, but could be a force if it decides to invest more in this area.
Throughout my observations of RIM's moves over the past year with BlackBerry 10 and BES 10, I've always assumed that it would be a straightforward "rip and replace" exercise to go from one to the other. However, as BlackBerry 10 and BES 10 are new products that are untested in the general market, one has to assume that any upgrade will contain risk that needs to be managed. How much risk we can't say at this point, but we do know that if we don't want to avoid getting fired, we will need to manage that risk.
However, another process that contains difficult-to-quantify risk that we need to manage lest we get fired is the process of rolling in any other enterprise-managed or BYOD strategy. You're going to have to do this work anyway, so you might as well assume that sticking with RIM and going from BlackBerry 7/BES v5 to BlackBerry 10/BES 10 is an equal amount of heartache as doing something else. It's illogical to assume that the upgrade to BlackBerry 10/BES 10 will be easier than just recycling all of your BlackBerry 7 handsets and buying iPads, or going BYOD.
Of course, smartphones are deathly dull things. What's not dull is this: tablets.
In 2013 I believe that we'll start seeing significant uptake of tablets in the enterprise as a platform for solution delivery. Enterprises are starting to pull off moves like Barclays recent purchase of 8,500 iPads.
Oh, by the way, here's a recent list of large-scale iPad deployments produced by Eric Lai. That Barclays thing isn't a one off.
Where this crosses over is that if you have to install an MDM/MAM solution in your enterprise, given that smartphones are boring and tablets are exciting, might it not be better to invest time and money in an MDM/MAM solution that's a leader in the tablet space? Typically, established MDM/MAM products will manage old BlackBerry 7 devices too, and seeing as BlackBerry 10 "talks" Exchange ActiveSync, leaders in the MDM/MAM space should be able to do basic, or even "good enough" management of BlackBerry 10 as a well if you are so inclined.
(And I'm not saying this needs to be iPad -- we can now start talking about Windows tablets in this context too, although the MDM/MAM story is currently complicated. Stay tuned.)
You know what they say about the law of unintended consequences, it seems to me that RIM are creating a perfect opportunity for CTOs to start thinking about a world post-RIM.
What do you think? Post a comment, or talk to me on Twitter: @mbrit.