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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 ...

 

An increase in flexibility

There are still diehard BlackBerry fans. Andy Ambrozic is one. He has managed Ricoh Canada Inc.’s technology needs for 30 years and fondly recalls the arrival of the first BlackBerrys more than a decade ago. “It was dynamite,” he says. Ricoh Canada deploys more than 1,000 BlackBerrys to employees and was an early adopter of its new BES 10 servers; its top executives all use the new Z10 and Q10 devices and Mr. Ambrozic may roll them out firm-wide. “It’s a rock-solid product that does everything we want,” he says. “We’re committed to stand by them.” At the same time, BES10 enables him to manage iPhone and Android smartphones, which several employees now bring from home.

But even BlackBerry’s most loyal customers are letting non-BlackBerry devices into their operations as they embrace the growing bring-your-own-device trend. Loblaw Cos Ltd. is rolling out a full BYOD plan for employees. Bank of Montreal has run a BYOD pilot program, and pension giant OMERS is exploring whether to allow employees to bring their own devices.

Such a sea change is partly inspired by more flexibility from BlackBerry, which recently rolled out what is known as its “secured work space” for Apple’s iOS operating system and Android. The software ensures that companies that rely on high security get the same protection regardless of the device. BMO is one of the companies testing this software.

But as they open their networks to other phones, some large, security-conscious firms that previously only used BlackBerrys have begun to allow employees to swap in iPhone and Android devices on separate, non-BlackBerry servers, such as Royal Bank of Canada and Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children.

Sick Kids remains a BlackBerry customer and has upgraded to the BES10 server, ordering Z10 and Q10 devices. But to manage its non-BlackBerry devices, it turned to Silicon Valley-based MobileIron and now deploys more Apple devices than BlackBerrys, says chief information officer Daniela Crivianu Gaita. The reason: Software firms that made the specialized applications the hospital used to manage patient files and X-rays on desktops created mobile app versions – but not for BlackBerry. And while BlackBerry now offers the capability to manage all of Sick Kids’ mobile devices, Ms. Gaita says its solution came too late. “Based on what I know from my peers, most people have a similar strategy – they still have the BES but have either implemented, or are in the process of implementing, another mobile device management solution. Being Canadians, we’d love BlackBerry to do well. I think that’s why they’re keeping the BES.”

Some enterprise customers say they don’t want to invest tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in new BES10 servers until there is more clarity about BlackBerry’s future. But there are other strategic minefields.

For competitive reasons, BlackBerry has refused to give competing mobile device management firms the ability to properly manage BlackBerrys (it does this by withholding access to its application programming interface, or APIs). That means most rivals can fully support only Apple or Android devices, while their customers who want to deploy BlackBerrys only get basic e-mail, contacts and calendar functions – unless they install BlackBerry’s server.

“We don’t want to risk the value of our security credentials by allowing companies that don’t have a security heritage to manage a BlackBerry,” Mr. Bates said. “People that use a BlackBerry expect a BlackBerry experience. We will not compromise on that.”

But it can cost BlackBerry potential sales. While employees at Ritchie Bros., for example, can choose whatever device they want, there are 200 salespeople who can access the company’s sales tools through protected mobile portals only on Apple or Android devices. That won’t be possible if they choose BlackBerrys because BlackBerry won’t let Fiberlink offer that expanded functionality. Even if they want a BlackBerry Z10 or Q10, it would make little sense for any of Ritchie Bros. salespeople to get one.

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