This week I’m at BlackBerry’s analyst event in San Francisco. A lot has changed over the last couple of years. The company has moved from a cash burn rate measured in the low billions to one in the low millions, and it is no longer in danger of going under. It has been able to maintain an R&D budget in the billions, and today was a coming-out party for some of the things coming from the effort. BlackBerry remains the market leader in mobile management and security, in terms of number of mobile devices covered, and remains the only platform that is trusted deeply by the U.S. government. Its new BlackBerry Passport phone is sold out and on supply constraints, and John Chen, the effervescent CEO, is showcasing his pride for his company and people because they have come through for him.
Here are some of the interesting thoughts from the event.
IT Is Long on Access and Short on Security
One of the interesting initial messages was based on a survey that BlackBerry has done, cutting across a variety of industries. What came back was that while virtually all of them were massively increasing mobile access, a smaller majority was doing very little to secure the devices or the people using them. Given how viruses and hackers are cutting across these devices, you can imagine what is likely to happen after a breach if it is found that folks were increasing risk massively but not mitigating it adequately. Two-thirds of the companies reported that not only are their data breaches increasing sharply year over, the majority of this is coming from mobile devices, which are clearly inadequately protected.
BES12: Covering Apple, Android, BlackBerry and Windows Mobile devices, this is the platform the company is driving to handle the massive variety of user devices flooding into business. What was fascinating was that Samsung’s head of the Knox Business unit came on stage to validate the service and showcase integration with Samsung Knox. This deal was likely driven because BES servers are in service in more companies than the next three competitors’ solutions combined. This was very powerful and they spoke for some time about the fact that this partnership happened at the very highest levels of both companies.
Enterprise Identity by BlackBerry: This is actually a much needed standards-based solution for single sign-on for federated services. The first implementation is VPN Authentication by BlackBerry, which works with BlackBerry, Android and iOS devices. Basically, this turns the employee’s phone into an authentication token. What is cool about this is that you log into the VPN with your Windows name and password and you get a notice on your phone asking you to validate; you click on a button and you are in. So it’s a second factor for VPNs and ease of use is in line with the Amazon Buy button.
WorkLife by BlackBerry separates work and business use. Basically, this solution gives the employee two virtual personalities: one for business use and one for personal. This is critical in states like California, and countries that require firms to reimburse employees for business use. It works for voice, messaging and data. It works on Android, iOS and BlackBerry 10 devices. A single button push changes the personality of the phone into each of the two modes.
BBM Protected is a secure seamless mobile messaging system for companies and government agencies that need to have their messages protected. This initially only worked for BlackBerry devices, but the company is announcing it for Android and iOS devices today.
BBM Meetings works on Windows and Apple PCs and with Android, BlackBerry and iOS phones. This could be a godsend for a lot of folks who have to attend online meetings on mobile devices because these devices are second-class citizens on most meeting services. With BBM Meetings, a mobile user can set, join, present into, and have the same access to features as those working on PCs. This is actually pretty cool and, no surprise, it works particularly well with the new Passport phone.
BlackBerry brought a Salesforce executive on stage to talk about the fact that in the consumer sector, we’ve been shifting to an app structure, while in enterprise and particularly in government, rather than having an app for that, they have stuck religiously with annoying forms. Salesforce with BlackBerry is working to change that by creating a set of app-based solutions to eliminate the form approach now in place. They work more easily and are far less annoying than the forms they are replacing. (I hate forms so much that I actually had “will not do forms” written into one of my job descriptions.)
Wrapping Up: John Chen’s Strategy Is Working
The one clear takeaway from this event is that Chen’s strategy of focusing BlackBerry back on business and going cross platform is working. The pendulum between consumer focus and business focus tends to swing back and forth and, while much of the last decade had the mobile industry focused on consumers and Apple, even Apple (with its partnership with IBM) is now focusing more on business. In the end, the business requirements were always going to come back. This event showcases that Chen’s business-focused strategy is paying dividends. The fact that even Samsung is recognizing BlackBerry’s unique security advantages showcases the value of BlackBerry’s focus and related new portfolio.
Chen’s final comment indicated that a year ago, competitors were partying at BlackBerry’s expense. Chen just shut down that party.
Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm. With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+