RIM aims to broaden BlackBerry user base

RIM has revealed a product roadmap through which it plans to target every size of business, from the biggest corporate players to the smallest home businesses or even individual users
Written by Natasha Lomas, Contributor

The days of the BlackBerry as purely a big business enterprise device are numbered, as RIM targets its smartphones at all sizes of business: from the biggest fish to the tiniest tiddlers running a business from a single home PC.

RIM points to a product roadmap, which includes the big boys capable of investing in a BlackBerry Enterprise Server infrastructure; SMEs dabbling with the slimmed-down BlackBerry Professional offering, launched late last year; and BlackBerry Unite, a free product in the launch pipeline that will get the smallest of businesses, or even individuals, mobilised on BlackBerry.

Speaking at RIM's Wireless Enterprise Symposium (WES) in Orlando, Florida, the BlackBerry maker's co-chief executive Mike Lazaridis said the company's vision is "no less than maintenance-free BlackBerry", or "the ability to deploy BlackBerrys anywhere, anytime, any volume without ever having to visit them, set them up, upgrade them, all the software, applications and settings in one central location".

The BlackBerry-maker is also working on the assumption that increasing adoption of smartphones will lead to more and more workers being unchained from PCs, which in turn will feed demand for smartphones.

This belief underpins its recent partnership with enterprise software giant SAP to deliver CRM via the BlackBerry. The two companies said they are working on getting several more SAP apps mobilised.

Giving a keynote speech at WES — which included a demonstration of SAP's CRM software running on the latest BlackBerry device — Mike de la Cruz, senior vice president of mobility and analytics at SAP, said enterprise mobility and enterprise software are converging "because of what's happening out there in the world".

Cruz said the rise of a mobile workforce — "mobile professionals" — presents an opportunity for enterprise software makers "to bridge that gap and provide another channel and make sure that we're bringing the power of enterprise software — the power of enterprise applications — directly to mobile professionals".

He added: "Prosumers are much more in control… I see a lot of decisions on enterprise software — I see a lot of projects — where CIOs and IT departments kind of get down to a short-list and leave it to the users to make the final decision… I've seen it change over the last 10 years significantly… The prosumer rules."

According to Cruz, the trend for mobility is good not only for mobile makers but for the increased usage of CRM systems it generates; driven by the convenience of inputting data on a mobile device, it increases the value of those systems, as users are inclined to feed more data into them. So the bottom line is the enterprise software maker wins too, according to Cruz.

Going beyond partnerships with the likes of SAP, which RIM describes as the BlackBerry "app ecosystem", the smartphone giant is looking at getting its claws into the office PBX — be it an old-school analogue system or next-gen IP-based &mdsh; via a product called Mobility Voice System (MVS). This integrates landline calls with mobiles so both types of calls can be seamlessly transferred between devices, and landline caller data is integrated with the BlackBerry.

RIM says MVS will mean businesses can issue members of staff with one phone number rather than having to print business cards containing both a mobile and a landline number. This means they will no longer lose contacts if a member of the sales staff leaves the company and takes their personal mobile number with them.

The system has already launched in the US and is due to launch in Europe towards the end of this year according to RIM, which admitted PBX telecoms systems are fiendishly complex and that its plan for MVS is to build it out slowly.

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