BlackBerry's devices no longer hold the cachet they once had, and many organizations have embraced its competitors, but its server-side software may keep IT shops from replacing BlackBerry completely.
Many organizations that once depended on BlackBerry products and services have reached the point where the one-time staples are now obsolete. This trend is driven by the continuation of the bring your own device movement, as well as BlackBerry's failures: ineffective management, inability to recognize clear technological, market and operational shifts, and competition that simply out-implemented and out-positioned the company. Also, many end users no longer find BlackBerry handsets "cool."
The company's role as the exclusive handset line for enterprise workers is over.
All is not lost for BlackBerry, but the company's role as the exclusive handset line for enterprise workers is over. For organizations still using the devices, the time has come to consider alternatives. BlackBerry devices were a hit because they offered users wireless email and physical keyboards. The devices sang for IT as well, with an emphasis on security, particularly with respect to wireless email. In general, email is not secure because it doesn't use sender-to-receiver security, but BlackBerry's elliptic-curve encryption technology secures the connection between the device and BlackBerry's servers. (What comes out the other side of those servers, however, is unencrypted, which is why some governments have insisted on taps into these servers to monitor traffic.)
Replacing Blackberry: How to do it
The first step in replacing BlackBerry is to implement mobile email -- and provision other mobile traffic while you're at it -- in a way that is consistent with your company's security policies. Since email is the lowest common denominator of Internet communications, encrypting all messages all the time probably isn't necessary. Encrypting sensitive attachments is fairly straightforward, however, and it's relatively easy to do. Keep in mind that contemporary wireless networks have excellent over-the-air encryption already built-in, so wireless security issues are of less concern. Think end-to-end, and you can be one step better than BlackBerry's security. Web email based on HTTPS is one easy way to achieve this goal.
The next core issue is enterprise mobility management (EMM). For many years, BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) provided the bridge between corporate communication systems and BlackBerry devices, as well as capabilities such as synchronization and management-console functionality. The rise of device-independent competitors, alternative mobile platforms such as iOS and Android, and mobility-management products specific to devices, applications, content, expenses, policy and identity, have led many IT shops to re-evaluate whether they need BES or not.
BlackBerry itself has evolved in this area and now offers BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 (BES 10), which is a comprehensive multi-platform tool meant to compete with other mobility-management products. The company also just announced BES 12, which combines BES 10 with the older device support available only in BES 5.
You'll still need to re-evaluate your EMM requirements, but you might not have to replace BlackBerry completely; even if you drop all BlackBerry devices, BES 10 could be the management tool you choose to implement.
That brings us to the devices themselves. Users who like a physical keyboard lose a good deal of screen real estate to the keys. Even with today's bright, high-resolution displays, the necessary size of a pocket-able mobile device makes a physical keyboard more of a liability. Most users can get used to a virtual keyboard with a little practice, and the benefits with respect to size, weight and even reliability are more than tangible. Users might dislike having to learn their way around new devices, but mobile OSes such as Android and iOS have proven quite usable with just a little training and support. As long as you are prepared to help the BlackBerry holdouts in your company migrate off the devices and onto new and different mobile OSes, you can minimize your efforts.
That's not to say you have to force users off their BlackBerrys. If your company buys devices for users, you might want to consider replacing BlackBerry devices with newer ones, such as iOS or Android smartphones, especially if you're not going to use BES 10 for management. If, however, your company allows BYOD, it's wise to either choose a mobility management tool that supports most of the devices workers use, or let users know which devices and OSes your department will support.
Although replacing BlackBerry creates a workload you might prefer to avoid, it's a migration that's par for the course as the technology landscape grows and evolves. This too, shall pass, and the next big change after this one is on the horizon, regardless.