A year has passed since BlackBerry’s last ditch attempt to reclaim the smartphone market saw the launch of the BlackBerry 10 operating system (OS) along with its two flagship smartphones, the Z10 and the traditional QWERTY Q10.
But general consensus holds that the devices - while running on the solid BlackBerry 10 OS and with the added appeal of BES 10 for enterprise - proved too little, too late, and failed to attract both consumers and the enterprise.
BlackBerry’s most recent results showed a company in crisis, with operating losses of $4.4bn and revenues down 56% on the year before.
With BlackBerry headed out of the running, it seemed that Apple and Android had won the smartphone race. But Computer Weekly has spoken to an increasing number of CIOs looking to Windows Phone to replace expired BlackBerry contracts.
Julian Payne, head of ICT at the Science Museum Group, is about to roll out Windows Phones across his organisation. He said he felt it was a better fit with the group’s desktop strategy.
Payne said he looked at all the options and found Windows Phone to be the most cost effective, once he had reached the end of his contract with BlackBerry.
Andrew McManus, IT director, NEC Group, will move away from BlackBerry towards Windows Phone in the spring of 2014.
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The NEC has around 250 BlackBerrys which he wants to replace with Nokia Lumia 625s and 925s.
“Now I find the Windows devices more compelling,” he said. “You get seamless connection into our back-end Microsoft systems, so a tablet that looks pretty much like an iPad gives you access to Exchange, all of our systems, ERP [enterprise resource planning]. As well as all the nice tablet functions people like," said McManus.
“Price-wise, it is about the same too. Why wouldn’t we go down that route?”
When the NEC’s contract with Vodafone came to an end, EE won the new tender. McManus said he would have had to upgrade the NEC’s servers to handle a BlackBerry upgrade, so it was far cheaper to move to Windows Phones.
McManus said he was planning to replace previous deployments of Apple iPads with Windows 8-based tablets.
“What I want to be able to do with Windows is to give people access to data in real time so events managers can see everything happening at their show. You can do that on iOS, but trying to grab something out of a SQL server is a lot more complicated,” he said.
“I think we will end up with Windows through and through for all of our tablet uses.”
The more appealing option
Rob Bamforth, principal analyst of business communications at analyst firm Quocirca, believes there is a trend for Windows to pick up the slack when BlackBerry’s appeal fades.
“As the BlackBerry has been such a strong corporate device, then it should be no surprise that Windows Phone devices have more appeal (especially to corporate IT) than either Android or iOS devices - which are more likely to have stronger consumer and self-chooser appeal,” he said.
Boris Hurinek, CTO of software services group Eurobase, found Windows Phone the most economically viable handset after discarding BlackBerry.
“We chose to migrate, as we needed a reliable and future-proof platform that would deliver productivity, security, a wide range of business applications, user friendliness and easy migration and support and integration with our existing infrastructure,” he said.
Hurinek had to find a cost-effective way of kitting out forty employees with smartphones. For the price of a fourth generation iPhone, Hurinek bought eight Windows Lumia 520 devices.
“The statement of cheap and cheerful wasn’t the case for with these phones. They were significantly cheaper than iPhone and they were seen as a really powerful devices,” he said.
“They are a fully functional, productive platform – even though they cost only a fraction of the iPhone.”
Hurinek also found the phones fully integrated with the corporate IT system.
“It just worked the first time,” he says.
“It was so easy and another reason the number of business applications that are available out of the box, so we rolled out windows phone without having to install any external applications.”
The phones were ready to go with business email, SkyDrive, as well as Office 365, saving IT a lot of set-up time.
Rikke Rasmussen, business market lead at Windows Phone UK, said the Windows ecosystem is designed to integrate with an organisation’s existing IT infrastructure without more investment.
“Traditionally, BlackBerrys were the device of choice for enterprises and whilst, it met the need for secure access to email, it lacked the crucial productivity and collaboration functionality which characterise many of today’s mobile devices,” he said.
"It is not surprising many CIOs are proactively looking for alternatives, including Windows Phone."
But Bamforth said Windows may see a short term boost in the UK, because the UK has generally had a larger market share of BlackBerry compared to the rest of Europe. But Microsoft’s long term approach to mobile will be the determining factor of success, he said.
“Historically it has been a bit mixed and not given mobile the focus it really deserved,” said Bamforth.
“A bit more clarity and firmer direction would be appreciated, and right now it has another opportunity to play in the enterprise mobile space.”
It is not just CIOs in the private sector who are thinking carefully about their future mobile offerings.
Andy Beale, common technology services lead in the office of the CTO at the Government Digital Service (GDS) is part of the project to overhaul Cabinet Office IT. He said the GDS is currently looking at all options, including BlackBerry, Windows, iOS and Android as part of the Cabinet Office IT strategy, which aims to change how technology is used across the department, and indeed the rest of government.
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But other government departments have already written off BlackBerry as part of its future-proofed mobile solution. Jeremy Boss, head of IT Department for Energy and Climate Change, said the department is planning to switch from BlackBerrys to smartphones running Windows 8 for a third of its 1,800 strong staff.
“The advantage to us is Windows 8 is aligned to the same security model we use for our laptops,” Boss said.
Ritchie Martin, CTO at DECC said: “The business case was that Windows 8 is cheaper and better aligned to user needs to go down the smartphone route rather than stick with BlackBerry. There’s less work for us to do to integrate a Windows 8 smartphone device than there would be for us to do something with Apple."
Bring your own device
Jon Quick, CIO at training provider Avanta, said the welfare-to-work organisation provided around 250 BlackBerrys to its mobile workforce.
“We’ve had them for a while because it was easy to do,” he said, adding that the organisation was in the middle of a BYOD trial.
Quick said it is “barmy” that practically every mobile employee carries their work BlackBerry with another personal device: “I just don’t see any point in having two devices,” he said.
“Some of us have dropped the BlackBerrys and I’m seeing if we can manage without them. I haven’t had a BlackBerry for nine months and I haven’t missed it.”
But issues around security and cost to employees using personal phones for expensive calls abroad and conference calls meant Quick had yet to make any commitments to a full BYOD roll-out.
But if Quick believes BYOD is not the right route for Avanta, he will not provide BlackBerrys again. “I don’t think it is a product that is sustainable,” he said, even though he is a fan of BlackBerry’s BES10 enterprise server.
Bamforth agreed that Window’s success in the enterprise mobile space could depend on how well BYOD takes off and how tablet based devices affect corporate IT.
If 2014 is to be the year of the consumerisation of IT, this could see users bringing in a proliferation of devices and Windows missing out to Android and Apple once again.
“The balance of control of IT between individual and IT continues to be 'interesting',” he said.