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NeatFreak managing director John Collins prefers the keyboard of the BlackBerry over the smartphones with touchscreens. (J.P. MOCZULSKI for The Globe and Mail)
NeatFreak managing director John Collins prefers the keyboard of the BlackBerry over the smartphones with touchscreens. (J.P. MOCZULSKI for The Globe and Mail)

RIM’s BlackBerry 10: Will business buy in? Add to ...

COUNTING ON BLACKBERRY FANS

Mr. Collins, and his firm, are pretty typical RIM business customers for the new era. He’s not exactly going to wait overnight in a mall lineup for a BlackBerry 10 phone. Indeed, he doesn’t even want RIM’s first, touchscreen BB10 device (instead he plans to wait for the first one with a physical keyboard). And his employees are likely to remain a mix of those who use RIM smartphones and those who avoid them

Still, he’s an optimist. Whatever people think of RIM’s business, there are still plenty of BlackBerry fans out there. “Apple is better at marketing, but I still think BlackBerry has the better business solution,” he says. “As a Canadian, I’m cheering for BlackBerry, not that that’s a deciding factor.”

RIM now has a diverse set of 130 corporate customers trying BlackBerry 10 devices right now, spanning a number of sectors: financial services, government, health care and other industries. Additionally, more than 1,600 businesses, including Fortune 500 companies, are registered for what RIM calls the BlackBerry 10 “ready program,” which essentially prepares companies to deploy RIM’s new phones at launch.

Of course, RIM is sowing ground in an different competitive landscape than the one that prevailed even two years ago. Apple executives have boasted of penetrating Fortune 500 companies with their iPhones and iPads.

No one knows that better than chief information officers, the top executives for technology at large businesses.

Catherine Boivie, the founding president of the CIO Association of Canada, recently sent an e-mail out to her executive board, which includes IT decision makers at recognizable firms such as Toronto-Dominion Bank, the Canadian Red Cross and MTS Allstream, asking about BlackBerry 10.

The results of her informal poll show the uphill climb RIM faces.

“Most responses I got back were, ‘BlackBerry missed the boat by a year,’ ” she says. “The year that they delayed the new operating system is costing them. Because BlackBerry was the solution. Now, it’s Samsung, which is quite popular. And the iPhone. ... You’re talking to an original BlackBerry user. I used the BlackBerry when it was just a pager. But last year I switched to an iPhone.”

In its most recent quarter alone, Apple sold a record 47.8 million iPhones – more than half of RIM’s global base of 79 million BlackBerry users. In the U.S., where Apple’s brand has risen as RIM’s as fallen, the trend is pronounced, particularly since corporations tend to replace BlackBerrys with iPhones because of their integration with iPads.

That’s what happened at Sanofi SA, a multinational pharmaceutical firm headquartered in Paris that has a global work force of 110,000, with 20,000 of those employees based in the United States.

Sanofi’s director of mobility engineering, Brian Katz, has seen a gradual shift away from BlackBerrys as people within the company started using iPhones and Android devices outside of the workplace. He also looked closely at RIM’s PlayBook tablet, but was unimpressed by the tablet’s inability to function properly without being tethered to a BlackBerry.

“Between the consumerization of IT and everything else, we have migrated from a shop that was primarily BlackBerry, just like everybody else was five years ago, to a shop that is not as much BlackBerry anymore,” Mr. Katz said in an interview.

When it comes to the launch of RIM’s new BlackBerry 10 phones, he adds, Sanofi will be looking at them, but it’s not as if every company – particularly those that now have iPhones in the mix – needs the sort of security that BlackBerrys provide.

“There are industries that for confidentiality, and whatever else, have never strayed from RIM – and those industries are going to look at [BB10] and be fairly happy that they have better-enabled devices,” Mr. Katz continues.

“But ... [if] you don’t have the same type of [security] requirements that necessitate RIM, are people going to want them in the same force that they want [Apple] and Android? And if people don’t want them, what’s our overriding reason to go with them?”

But for all the changes to the way businesses deploy smartphones, RIM still has serious swagger when it comes to the corporate world. This week, RIM launched a revamped version of the software that helps businesses manage BlackBerrys. And despite concerns about dwindling, high-margin revenue from the service side of RIM’s business, the new software allows businesses to handle iPhones and Android phones. The day before it launched on Wednesday, the venture arm of Samsung Electronics plunged money into Fixmo Inc., a mobile security company with a former RIM executive as chief marketing officer that helps firms deploy multiple devices – in part helping them ditch BlackBerrys. But Peter Devenyi, RIM’s senior vice-president for enterprise software, didn’t sound too scared when asked about the rising competition.

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