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How BlackBerry's John Chen Enabled the Best COVID Enterprise Response

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John Chen is often known for his humor and entertaining free-form keynotes at BlackBerry events, and I've enjoyed every one of them. But this year, BlackBerry's annual event was virtual and broken up into parts. This week BlackBerry focused on how their clients are using BlackBerry's technology to address the many new threats faced by clients. Chen closed out the session without his usual humor because he is, as we are, taking this crisis very seriously.

They have focused the company on the related threats and the unique problems associated with transitioning from largely on-premises employee management and security to fully remote employee management and security. And the pivot wasn't that difficult for either BlackBerry or their customers because Chen anticipated the need for a product that could address this problem long before the COVID-19 event showcased the need for it.

I'm going to start covering Chen's comments and end with a couple of the interesting cases BlackBerry shared during this virtual conference.

Keeping it simple

I'm not a fan of Acronyms, but one that has stuck with me over the years that is often tragically forgotten is KISS, or Keep It Simple Stupid. Much of the problem we have with both device management and security in the technology segment is that we layer on things that were never designed to work together and then wonder why the result is a management nightmare.

Chen seems to get this better than most and shared that some of the large enterprises that he has worked with have over 60 endpoint management and security products layered on or working in parallel with each other requiring near-constant monitoring. The result is that while these firms have the tools to understand why a breach happened forensically, the tools do little to prevent it from happening in the first place. This situation is problematic because it implies that the firms that are hit could have prevented the breach, they just chose not to. Now it isn't because IT wanted to hurt their own company, it is because they simply can't handle the massive number of alerts coming in across their massively wide variety of apps.

IT doesn't need more security layers and apps; they need a security and management infrastructure that is simple, smart, and automated so that the system can address the threats, not the overworked and understaffed IT department. This became particularly problematic during the pandemic because, apparently, a lot of attackers now have a ton of extra time, and the employees working from home became vulnerable targets.

So while the components of BlackBerry's management and security solutions came from a variety of acquisitions, the effort was made to fully integrate them, work in an AI function to automate responses so the threats could be stopped, not just analyzed after the fact. So the result didn't require staffing IT didn't have.

This situation highlights a problem that many technology suppliers introduce into an enterprise, which doesn't have unlimited resources and is instead, typically, staffing constrained. So if the solution requires a significant staffing load increase, chances are it either won't be fully implemented, if it is implemented at all. This is one of the leading reasons why so many seemingly critical enterprise applications become shelfware. They needed to be, but weren't, automated. Chen is unique in his understanding of this one critical problem.

Now let's talk cases.

Resilience Office Civil Nuclear Constabulary

Joseph Shearer-Rust discussed the efforts of the UK's Resilience Office Civil Nuclear Constabulary (CNC) to transition to a remote workforce in response to COVID-19. What made this case fascinating is that CNC has its own heavily armed fast response police force. That police force is not only used to protect the CNC plant sites, but it can be called on to supplement other police forces in times of need. They must know where their people are and whether they are available for an engagement at a moment's notice.

When the UK shifted to working at home, CNC, thanks to BlackBerry, was able to make the shift in 24 hours. They knew where their people were, they knew whether those people could be deployed, and they were able to assure the safety of those people in minutes without any IT intervention. They already had in place mass alerting, duty scheduling, shift solicitation (to cover for sick or missing employees as well as staffing for unforeseen events), and a full crisis communications network. While other organizations were struggling with the shift from office to work from home, CNC was focused on doing its job, albeit from homes rather than offices.

Minimal disruption, services were maintained, and the employees, their tools, and their communications remained secure.

Zebra integrates with BlackBerry's help

Victor Salmons, VP of Engineering and Specialty Printers for Zebra, said BlackBerry was critical in helping the printing company integrate acquisitions. This evolution resulted in a product set that came from different development teams, wasn't designed to integrate, and lacked line synergy (there was no operational value to buying a variety of products from Zebra because they didn't interoperate well if it all). They moved to BlackBerry's QNX architecture across all the lines and the result was a consistent user interface across all products, synergy across lines, and clear advantages to buying across those lines because the result would be vastly easier to manage. They even called the QNX result LinkOS, and they now sell it as the most powerful print management platform in their segment.

That same kind of result could be applied to devices that are used in healthcare to vastly simplify managing and securing the massive number of connected systems in hospitals, the distributed sensors across smart cities, and the coming wave of IR cameras that will be deployed to catch COVID carriers that are symptomatic. It could also be used to address the coming wave of robots that will increasingly be used to protect employees during virus outbreaks better and operate more safely in areas like retirement homes and hospitals where employees are now excessively exposed.

Wrapping Up: KISS

I wish there were more tech CEOs like Chen who get the need to keep things simple and who focus on automation and integration so their offerings, at worst, keep headcount requirements static and, at best, free up people to do other critical tasks that are currently not getting done in a timely manner if at all.

This pandemic has seriously messed up our ability to function seamlessly, and despite Bill Gates's repeated warnings, much of the world was unprepared for this outbreak. But thanks to Chen, BlackBerry stood ready as did its clients, and as you struggle to bring your enterprise back into control, it might be wise to consider both the lessons Chen is teaching and the tools his company provides. Something to consider as we live through these challenging times.

Rob Enderle has been a TechnologyAdvice columnist since 2003. His areas of interest include AI, autonomous driving, drones, personal technology, emerging technology, regulation, litigation, M&E, and technology in politics. He has an AS, BS, and MBA in merchandising, human resources, marketing, and computer science. Enderle is currently president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group, a consultancy that serves the technology industry. He formerly worked at IBM and served as a senior research fellow at Giga Information Group and Forrester.

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