Will BlackBerry 10 put RIM back on top for enterprise?

Research in Motion is pinning its recovery hopes on the upcoming enterprise-focused BlackBerry 10 mobile operating system

Research in Motion (RIM) has pinned all its hopes on its upcoming mobile operating system (OS) BlackBerry 10 (BB10).

Despite promises to launch by the end of the year, the company’s CEO, Thorsten Heins, told the world they would have to wait until the start of 2013 to sample the system.

But, with the January launch date edging closer, RIM is now on the offensive, trying to prove it is the right choice, not only for the consumer but the enterprise as well.

Some might think the reputation of the BlackBerry means businesses would need little convincing; RIM’s handsets have always been associated with the busy worker on the move and have long been the corporate handset of choice.

Yet, the market has changed. Devices predominantly made for the consumer have not so much edged as shoved their way into the business world, and recent studies have claimed RIM will be a distant memory within five years.

The Canadian stalwarts are not giving up yet though, no matter what the financial results or industry commentators say.  

Developing apps for BlackBerry 10 OS

Until the illusive launch occurs, there is little RIM can say to customers to convince them to hold out for BB10 devices rather than picking up an Apple iPhone 5 or Samsung Galaxy S3. Instead, the company is focusing on the developers.

On 23 October, London became one of the first host cities for BlackBerry Jam Enterprise Edition – a day-long event to bring together those both developing or considering developing apps for the mobile platform and encouraging them to follow the path to BB10.

“My role here is to get our enterprise developer community base up and running and moving forward,” said Gregg Ostrowski, senior director of enterprise developer partnerships at RIM.

He claimed his job was to move those developers on from the Java-based apps of BlackBerry 6 and 7 to the HTML 5/WebWorks apps for BB10, so when the mobile OS did eventually come out, the apps would be ready to go, whether bespoke in-house offerings or large corporate solutions, such as Salesforce or Citrix WebEx.

From an enterprise perspective, Android apps are not something we view as enterprise

Gregg Ostrowski, RIM

By having everything ready by the time the handsets launch, the sell into large corporates will be made much simpler, as a list of what is on offer, along with test cases of the more unique applications, will be on standby. 

But, yet again, the issue of whether it is too late and that these gaps have been filled by developers in the iOS or Android market is still an issue.

Delivering enterprise-level mobile security

Ostrowski would not comment on the threat of Apple’s mobile OS, but was quite clear on his thoughts about Google’s open source offering.

“From an enterprise perspective first and foremost, Android apps are not something we view as enterprise,” he said. “You can have an enterprise app that is hosted in the cloud, and you may call it enterprise, but my focus is on true behind-the-firewall enterprise applications. With BB10 you will have that safe, behind-the-firewall, secure VPN-like connection.”

This is where RIM has always impressed the business world. With BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) sat within the IT department, employees are able to access their corporate data on the move while being protected by the firewalls installed within the company network.

But when it comes to mobile devices in the workplace, it always ends up being about the choice made by the user. If they find a more convenient way or user-friendly application to get their work done, while bypassing office policy, it will happen. Can RIM make BB10 enticing enough to avoid this?

“It is a very valid point and I think that is where folks like CIOs and guys running mobile platforms have their biggest challenge,” said Ostrowski. “How do you provide your users the proper tools they need to conduct their business?

“If you can provide an alternative path [behind a firewall] to those things that might not be in IT’s control, then your user will be less likely to go elsewhere.”

RIM claims BB10 will offer this. On top of BES, there is a built-in ability to have two instances on the handset – keeping work and personal data separate from one another – as well as individual versions of the BlackBerry World app store listing only approved applications for the corporate instance to help give users choice but also keep them in the safe confines of corporate policy.

With BB10 you will have that safe, behind-the-firewall, secure VPN-like connection

Gregg Ostrowski, RIM

BB10 embraces the enterprise; will enterprises embrace it back?

Also getting the right partners at launch will help, such as Box, SAP, Citrix and LinkedIn, meaning users will not need to look elsewhere for alternative apps if the most popular are enterprise and BB10 ready.

It seems enterprise has been very central to the development of BB10, even while RIM seems to have been selling better in the low-end consumer market, thanks to the likes of BlackBerry Messenger. Now, with this focus on helping developers along the way, it is yet another proof point of the importance of the corporate contracts to RIM’s future.

However, until the handsets are unleashed, the pricing is publicised and RIM’s offering can be compared with what is available from all its competitors, no conclusion can be reached as to whether BB10 will be back on top for business. 

But with all the work it has put in, one hopes the adage "better late than never" proves true.

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