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After a rough year, BlackBerry has taken steps to shore up both its marketplace perception and enterprise technology this week with BES 10 updates and promises from its interim CEO.
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John Chen, who was installed as interim CEO after a shakeup in early November, recently issued an open letter aimed at enterprise customers and partners, invoking Mark Twain's oft-paraphrased line that "reports of our death are greatly exaggerated."
A day later, the company launched BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 (BES 10) version 10.2 that it believes separates itself from the rest of the growing enterprise mobility management (EMM) market.
BlackBerry enterprise customer
"They're going back to what they offer besides devices," said Bob Egan, a mobile market analyst and founder of Sepharim Group in Falmouth, Mass. "They're trying to tell a story that's not about devices but about infrastructure, scalability, reliability and high security."
With the rollout of BES 10.2, the company has added expanded bring your own device enrollment for Apple, Inc. iOS devices and Google, Inc. Android devices as well as multi-platform support, a user self-service portal and increased scalability to 100,000 devices per domain.
Chen's letter came amidst reports of companies moving off BlackBerry devices and BES 10. The letter referenced unnamed "competitors" who want customers to believe BES 10 only supports BlackBerry for mobile device management (MDM), when BlackBerry says that's not true.
Adding improved EMM features to BES 10 was an important step down the path of making it a known multi-device space, according to Jack Gold, principal analyst and founder of J. Gold Associates, LLC in Northborough, Mass.
"This is a tack they have to take in order to survive," Gold said. "If they hadn't done this, [BES 10] would have been ripped out of every company that has it and replaced."
BES 10.2: A mixed bag for customers
As Blackberry fights for its life in the mobile space, BES 10 shines. Many IT pros continue to rely on it.
A mobile architect at a Top 50 global company based in the U.S. who requested anonymity said a recent BES 10 pilot had some success but isn't sure some issues will be addressed in the new version.
"[BES 10] still has all the policies and security we need," said the architect. "It already has it built in…Everyone looks at BlackBerry as just an email device. But I would rather have BlackBerry because I don't have to buy other software."
The architect hoped BES 10.2 would address a problem their company faced with carrier-side codes on regulated devices that aren't recognized in certain countries. However, they're unsure if those specific data codes will still be required in the new version.
While the architect likes many new BlackBerry features, both with devices and supporting systems, BlackBerry has missed the boat in communicating with both current and prospective customers.
For example, BlackBerry Balance affords end users the chance to separate work and personal data on BlackBerry 10 devices, creating the work/life balance they crave. But BlackBerry "is not doing a good job in explaining it, advertising it and targeting the audience that needs to have it" the mobile architect said.
CEO fires shots in letter
In his letter, Chen said the company has refocused its efforts on handsets, EMM, messaging capabilities across platforms and embedded systems.
"It's been difficult to make everyone aware that we do support Android and iOS devices," said Jeff Holleran, BlackBerry's senior director for enterprise product management. "But EMM is a space we built. Mobility has continued to grow and our goal is to support any device."
Chen fired a shot across the bow at MDM vendors, saying BlackBerry's cash isn't a problem and it is not "a small VC-backed 'pure play' MDM player seeking additional funds every year."
However, BlackBerry's cash flow doesn't impress some IT pros. The mobile architect is sick of hearing from BlackBerry about its cash flow and instead wants results on products, and to know the company is listening.
"They keep falling back on their financial laurels as an excuse," the architect said. "We get it. Money isn't the problem. Make us confident you still have the products and the support we need."
Egan said the letter was indicative of the work Chen has done to reassure large companies about BlackBerry's viability and those efforts have been working, to a certain degree.
"He's instilled some renewed yet cautious and skeptical faith to keep people from rushing into these new, tidy EMM vendors," Egan said.
Egan expects BlackBerry to move away from developing and manufacturing new devices, begin "outsourcing" its device capabilities with BlackBerry-labeled technology to other companies and focus instead on software and services.
"More mobile devices are managed by BlackBerry than any other vendor out there," Gold said. "They're saying, 'don't rip us out, we're still around.'"
Chen became CEO as BlackBerry pulled itself off the market after months looking for a buyer. Fairfax Financial Holdings Limited agreed to inject $1 billion in cash and former interim CEO Thorsten Heins was removed after a difficult tenure.
Analysts believed Chen, the former CEO of Sybase, Inc. before it was acquired by SAP, would reshuffle the deck for BlackBerry's leadership team. That happened on November 25 when the company's chief operating officer, chief financial officer, and chief marketing officer were ousted along with the resignation of a board member.