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How a Secret Strategy Helps BlackBerry and Microsoft Solve Government’s Mobile Problem

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Every once in a while, I run into something amazing. In this case, it is an effort announced at the AFCEA Defensive Cyber Operations Symposium that should ensure that BlackBerry and Microsoft dominate government and high-security enterprise mobile solutions, an effort that is not actually driven by Microsoft or BlackBerry.

This effort comes from a partnership between two other companies, and I think it showcases the fact that strategies to change both of these major companies are working and that, once again, the success of both firms is tied to partners and not just the firms’ own insular efforts.

Let me walk you through this.

The Critical Mobile Security Problem for Government

Organizations like the Department of Defense (DoD) want, and critically need, their people to be able to use mobile technology to collaborate. Literally, the fate of the free world often depends on this happening. Originally,  BlackBerry dominated this effort, but other platforms have been tried as users wanted to move to trendier – platforms that accommodated their personal needs more easily. But with that movement came management and security exposures.

The DoD and similar organizations also want and need applications like Microsoft 365, SharePoint, Lync, OneDrive and Yammer, which enable collaboration and comply with security standards. But SharePoint, while technically proficient, isn’t that friendly to folks who don’t have an IT background. And collaboration, because of its risks, hasn’t been great enough to actually drive people to use the service even though the government already owns the licenses.

So agencies needed something that could provide the kind of BlackBerry-like security protections demanded by government, with full management control, and they needed a SharePoint-like product that people would actually use. They needed a partnership between BlackBerry and Microsoft, but these firms weren’t partnered.

The Secret Partnership

Secret partnerships are usually formed in the bowels of the companies. For instance, Oracle refused to work with Microsoft, but customers needed integration. So a secret group formed in Oracle that worked with their counterparts in Microsoft in stealth to fix the related problems.

But in this Microsoft/BlackBerry case, the partnership was formed between B&D Consulting Inc., a huge government-focused consultant with tons of BlackBerry experience that specializes in security, unified communications, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence (AI), and harmon.ie, one of the top-rated Microsoft partners focused on humanizing Microsoft Office and all of the other tools listed above from within Outlook (check out the video).

These two firms effectively became proxies for BlackBerry and Microsoft and today announced a massive joint DoD effort to solve the problems I have described. However, the resulting solution has far broader implications.

The Microsoft Office Backstory

Office was always conceived to be more of a development platform than a final product; it just never seemed to go that way. When it came to market, it was massively cheaper than the word processing machines, calculators, automated rolodex systems and costly graphics solutions it replaced. Conceptually, it was supposed to be a foundation that partners would then use to target specific needs. Instead, it had the curse of being good enough and, even as dominant as it was, it never reached its full potential.

BlackBerry’s strength has moved from devices to management and, with the acquisition of Good Technology, moved solidly cross-platform. But, in the meantime, BlackBerry’s resources have become constrained, so it needs partners to help it carry the ball.

In this one effort, both needs have been met. I’m astonished that it appears to be happening organically and is not being directly driven by the technology providers. I think this is the first time I’ve seen this.

Support for BlackBerry PRIV and Windows Phones

I picked up some additional tidbits during the briefing. First, the partners are setting up to aggressively support Windows Phones and the BlackBerry PRIV. There is no visible demand for the Windows Phones, but there has been substantial demand for the Surface tablets, which both firms report are replacing iPads in mass numbers. This suggests that they are hedging and anticipating the possible success of the rumored Surface Phone. Their most requested phone for support is the BlackBerry PRIV, however, which is undergoing security certification. Apparently, what held it up was that BlackBerry didn’t want to have to certify it twice in a short time;  the availability of Android Marshmallow delayed the process, which should be complete shortly. This suggests that there will likely be a rather large number of government employees moving from iPhones to BlackBerry PRIV phones by year end.

Wrapping Up: Encouragement Wins over Force

My grandmother told me a story when I was around seven, and it has stuck with me. It was about a fictional struggle between the wind and the sun. They made a bet about which could get a woman to take her coat off. The wind tried to force the issue. The harder it blew, the tighter the woman held her coat. The sun just gradually warmed, and eventually the woman took her coat off.  The moral of the tale is that encouragement can work far better than force.  

Both BlackBerry and Microsoft have been aggressively moving to enable this kind of collaboration ever since each changed leadership, and they got the result that their predecessors seemed to be trying to force far more successfully, albeit they got it through partners rather than through their own efforts. I think that’s a good lesson. Something to noodle on this week. 

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+.

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