Can BlackBerry remain in the mobile enterprise?

BlackBerry is ramping up its drive to remain relevant following recent moves by IBM and Microsoft to target the mobile enterprise

BlackBerry is ramping up its drive to remain relevant following recent moves by IBM and Microsoft to target the mobile enterprise.

The company is inviting users of rival mobile device management tools to swap them for BES10.

The company’s chief executive, John Chen, aims to make BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) 10 Enterprise Mobility Management a differentiator.

Through this latest move, users of AirWatch, Good and MobilIron are being offered a low-cost route to the BlackBerry platform.

Security is seen as BlackBerry’s strongest differentiator. The company announced STIG (Security Technical Implementation Guides) approval, which means US Department of Defense (DoD) customers can now use iOS and Android smartphones and tablets connected to a BES10 server.

BlackBerry says the STIG approval gives additional confidence to government agencies that are considering a more open mobile environment, with a selection of devices and operating systems.

"BlackBerry is the only Enterprise Mobility Management provider that can secure a multi-platform environment based on varying levels of risk and compliance, from meeting the strictest requirements with BlackBerry 10 to providing the most flexibility with support for third-party devices," said John Sims, president of global enterprise services at BlackBerry.

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"The STIG approval for Secure Work Space for iOS and Android is another validation that enterprises and government agencies can rely on BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 for secure mobility, no matter which devices they have in the field."

However, strong security, which is the company's unique selling point, is being attacked on several fronts.

Last month’s IBM/Apple alliance boosted the credibility of iOS in the enterprise.

Through the partnership, IBM will introduce MobileFirst Supply and Management, an IT service that offers device supply, activation and management services for iPhone and iPad.

Microsoft has similarly been targeting enterprises with its Enterprise Mobility Suite.

And in June, Google and Samsung teamed up to integrate Android and Knox, Samsung’s military-grade mobile security platform, which, incidentally, also complies with STIG.

BlackBerry clearly needs its security credentials to be regarded as superior to what the rest of the industry can offer. It said STIG approval reinforced its security capabilities for the transfer of sensitive data on third-party devices.

Stacy Crook, mobility analyst at IDC, said: "The STIG certification serves as an indication that BlackBerry Secure Work Space for iOS and Android is well positioned to meet the strict security requirements that many enterprise and government agencies require."

But at least one of its MDM multi-platform rivals, namely AiWatch, has also gained STIG certification.

Consumerisation lowers security bar

Another challenge for BlackBerry is that IT security has changed. In the past, when a company wanted secure email, it would deploy BES and roll out BlackBerry devices to users. But, as Computer Weekly has previously reported, IT consumerisation is driving a rethink of IT security in many organisations.

Responding to the pace of change in mobile, in May 2013 the US Defense Information Systems Agency (Disa) reworked the STIG process, reducing 8,500 information assurance controls to 53. "We took the changes in pieces and worked them methodically to get the components in place to enable our new process," said Terry Sherald, chief of Disa’s Information Assurance Standards Branch. "We took the new controls and broke them down into single, actionable, measurable items that lend themselves to automation."

Similarly,the UK government’s Security Classification came into force in April. This defines three levels of security – official, secret and top secret. The higher levels of security classification require accreditation, which is where BlackBerry sees its position. But for the lowest, “official” level, many consumer-grade devices fit the bill.

Can BlackBerry make a difference?

Last November, Chen agreed to take on the role of steering BlackBerry’s strategy, which was focused on developing the software part of the business. Mobile software was the area in which Chen had major success when he was CEO of Sybase, after it was sold to SAP for $5.8bn in 2010.

But BlackBerry’s latest financial results shows little evidence that the company is making much progress. Revenue for the first quarter of the 2015 fiscal year was $966m, down $10m or 1% from the previous quarter. The company’s revenue for the quarter came mainly from hardware and services, which accounted for 39%  and 54%, respectively. The software side of the business accounted for 7% of revenue.

The company has spent the past six months concentrating on becoming more efficient. During this time, the enterprise mobility market has changed radically. With VMware acquiring AirWatch in February for $1.54bn, IBM’s recent alliance with Apple and Microsoft’s new CEO, Satya Nadella, pushing heterogeneous mobile device management, BlackBerry is no longer competing with best-of-breed MDM providers. 

The big guns have arrived and BlackBerry’s legendary security is no longer the deal-maker of the past. In the UK, the government has lowered the security bar, while the US DoD has made it far simpler for other device-makers to meet compliance criteria.

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