The launch of BlackBerry 10 in January was seen by many as a make-or-break moment for the company formerly known as RIM. With diminishing market share and apparent confusion over whether it wanted to be a consumer brand or a corporate brand, media and analysts alike were sceptical that BlackBerry would be able to make the splash it so desperately needed.
While the handsets and user interface received measured approval (frankly the Z10 looks like every other touchscreen smartphone on the market today), and certain features like the keyboard that lets you 'flick' words on to the screen raised a few smiles, the real game-changers from an enterprise perspective are BlackBerry Enterprise Service (BES) 10 and BlackBerry Balance.
Building on BlackBerry's historical dominance of the enterprise with its BlackBerry Enterprise Server, which allows IT managers to manage and provision employees' BlackBerry handsets remotely, BES10 with BlackBerry Balance allows businesses to protect company data within a secure workspace, without impacting or restricting personal use and privacy.
With these two products, BlackBerry has found a way to satisfy the needs of its enterprise customer base while harnessing the consumerisation and Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) trends that were threatening to bring about its demise.
Kicking off the European leg of the BlackBerry Experience Forum in London this week, BlackBerry executives took it upon themselves to deliver these messages to partners and customers, and shed a bit more light on how the platforms actually work.
“Unfortunately for us, in years past, the word BlackBerry to its end users became synonymous with this dumb email terminal. The IT department would lock the device down so tight that they could do their email and that was it,” said Jeff Holleran, senior director of Enterprise Product Management at BlackBerry.
“So we've built a platform that really separates that work and the personal space, so that the work belongs to work, and the personal data belongs to the person. As an enterprise IT administrator, I don't need to care what applications that end user is building, using, playing with, because none of those apps have any access to my corporate data.”
BlackBerry Balance creates a secure encrypted space within the device that is managed by an IT administrator. This means the admin can securely provision, manage and de-provision an employee’s corporate mobile workspace, while enabling the employee to retain the privacy and control of their personal content and apps.
Every enterprise that installs BES10 also has the ability to run a private app store behind the firewall, so they don't have to upload their proprietary applications to a public store. The Blackberry World app store has a dedicated client within the work space that contains applications that have been “whitelisted” by the company, such as SAP and Cisco WebEx.
BlackBerry is not the only mobile company to offer a solution that isolates an individual’s personal and professional profiles. Back in 2011, VMware showed how its Horizon Mobile could effectively create two virtual phones in one using a hypervisor. Citrix recently followed suit with its XenMobile MDM solution.
However, unlike those products, which create two completely separate experiences on the phone – one for work and one for personal life – BlackBerry Balance also allows users to get a unified view of their conversations, activities and events using BlackBerry Hub.
“The BlackBerry Hub shows emails from both personal and work; when I go to the calender I have one calender that overlays all of my calenders – work calender, gmail calender, family calender etc,” said Holleran.
“If I want to sit down and compare calenders with somebody, I simply lock the workspace on my device and my calender shows the dates and times when I'm busy. But it's locked – the other person don't need to know which client I'm meeting with and when.”
Mike Brown, vice president of security product management and research at BlackBerry, explained that BlackBerry is able to do this thanks to its acquisition of QNX in 2010. QNX is a POSIX-compliant operating system, meaning that BlackBerry can set up two completely separate encrypted file systems and then provide a unified view of them.
“Still all the data is stored encrypted in the separate file systems then, but be able to provide the unified view at times, and you can't do something like that with a hypervisor,” Brown said.
Holleran added that enterprise connectivity is something that only works for work applications, so the personal applications don't have the ability to go “hopping behind the firewall and finding data that may exist there. It's simply not possible on the device.”
The other key feature of BES10 is that it not only supports BlackBerry devices and PlayBooks, but also iOS and Android devices. This means that IT administrators can manage and provision their entire mobile estate (with the exception of any Windows Phone devices) from a single console.
BlackBerry Balance is not currently available for iOS and Android, meaning that any employees that link their devices up to BES10 must surrender control of their entire phone to the IT department. However, BlackBerry is working on a version of Balance called Secure Workspace that provides the same separation of work data and personal data on these platforms.
While this may seem like a risky strategy, removing the need for organisations to purchase BlackBerry devices, it does suggest that BlackBerry has realised that its old business model is dead, and the time has come to embrace the BYOD trend rather than fight it.
“What's quite interesting about the BYOD discussion is that the conversation is now shifting towards how does BYOD enable greater efficiency for the business, and ultimately scalability,” said IDC analyst Nick McQuire.
“It's not just about the notion of supporting specific hardware, it's how do I get a coherent policy in place and iterate that policy? How do I measure its success and align it to my business goals, and also incorporate the application and PC environment? These core areas are the next phase of maturity around BYOD.”
If BlackBerry can prove that BES10 with BlackBerry Balance is the best enterprise mobile device management platform on the market, then ultimately it will not matter what devices employees are using, (as long as there is a critical mass of BlackBerry devices), because BlackBerry will still be in control.
However, the battle is not over yet. Samsung has big plans to challenge BlackBerry's enterprise dominance with its new KNOX management and security system for Android smartphones and tablets, and there is no doubt that other companies will be hard on its heels.
BlackBerry is also still way behind iOS and Android when it comes to the application market, although the company claims that over 1,000 new apps have been added every day since launch. This means that winning over end users could still be an up-hill struggle.
Reclaiming the enterprise will be a long road for BlackBerry, and it is only through continuous innovation and a laser-focus on its customers' needs that it will stay ahead of the competition.