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Three people on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange display their Blackberry smartphones. (RICHARD DREW/AP)
Three people on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange display their Blackberry smartphones. (RICHARD DREW/AP)

BlackBerry faces dogfight as firm returns to its corporate roots Add to ...

BlackBerry’s new offering for enterprise customers is simple, secure and elegant, he says. In addition to BlackBerrys, the enterprise servers running on its secure network can now manage an array of Apple and Android-operated phones for large customers, and BlackBerry will soon offer an Internet-based device management system for smaller firms.

“This game is not over,” Mr. Bates says. “We’re just at the start.”

 

The BYOD trend

During the 2000s, BlackBerry devices became ubiquitous in white-collar workplaces. “It was the corporate mobile standard,” said IDC analyst Kevin Restivo. Co-CEO Mike Lazaridis took to calling the BlackBerry a “mission critical” tool for its big customers, and he wasn’t far off.

The iPhone’s arrival in 2007 shook up the smartphone market and spurred BlackBerry executives to respond with more consumer-oriented devices. Apple seemed at first to pose little threat to the enterprise business.

That changed in 2010, when Apple released both its iPad tablet and the fourth version of the iPhone operating system. The tablet became popular as a workplace tool, enabling employees to carry binders worth of documents in a handy medium. And the new iPhone “was the first mobile operating system outside BlackBerry” that could be run smoothly from a company’s server, said AirWatch’s Mr. Dabbiere. Enterprises could provide separate corporate and personal e-mail on devices, allow for remote access into corporate networks, and have IT departments set pass codes and link to corporate applications via the devices. They still lagged BlackBerry for security, but the gap closed enough for many. Employees began asking to use their iPhones for work. At first, chief information officers were aghast at the potential loss of control, but they soon relented.

By 2010, many enterprise customers were asking BlackBerry if it could adapt the BlackBerry enterprise server to also manage Apple and Android devices. Upstart firms were offering to manage fleets of Android and Apple phones, and the new trend was BYOD – bring your own device. “It’s like company cars – your employer used to give them to you, now they only pay you for mileage,” said Alexander Trewby, chief operating officer of Enterproid Inc., a mobile device management firm. “The same is happening in mobile.”

Within BlackBerry, executives generally agreed that to remain dominant in the enterprise market, the firm should allow competing devices to operate on the BlackBerry enterprise server. But it was a big step for a company that in 2010 was choking on priorities, including developing a new smartphone platform and a tablet. “There were too many competing agendas,” one former executive says.

“There was full agreement internally that we needed the BES to help manage and secure Apple and Android phones,” the executive says. “It was not a case of not recognizing the problem, it was a matter of not executing on it. Now it will be a tough battle, and it would be a battle back.”

BlackBerry earlier this year finally made the BES platform capable of accommodating competing devices. Asked why it took the company three years to allow that, Mr. Bates acknowledged: “Yes, it’s taken a long time.” But he added that BlackBerry was dedicated to “maintaining a gold standard of our solution” and wanted to stick to a co-ordinated launch with the BlackBerry 10. “The challenge is, that’s a lot to do.”

By launching its multiplatform device offering so late, however, BlackBerry left the door open for rivals such as AirWatch to gain a foothold and redefine BlackBerry’s market. Employees no longer had to carry two phones. They could access corporate e-mail and other work applications securely on their personal iPhones – and IT departments could isolate and manage sensitive company data without affecting the employee’s personal files. “It’s about no compromise,” says Enterproid’s Mr. Trewby. “The IT department doesn’t compromise corporate data and just manages that. And end users don’t compromise personal freedom and privacy.”

Now BlackBerry faces a fight to win the business to manage corporate iPhone and Android devices. In a survey of Fortune 1000 IT executives earlier this year, Jefferies analyst Peter Misek found 18 per cent planned to use BlackBerry’s BES to manage non-BlackBerry phones in their enterprises, tying the company with AirWatch. Two others garnered 10 per cent or more. “Now there are several companies vying to go public who do nothing but effectively what a BES does for devices,” says one former BlackBerry executive. “None of them would have had the oxygen to do that if BlackBerry had executed on time.”

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