Is RIM Becoming an MDM Company?

Carl Weinschenk
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It's old news that IT shops now have to support a mix of mobile devices from Apple, Google, and Microsoft - at least some-in addition to the once-king BlackBerry.

But the fact remains that there is a huge installed base of BlackBerry devices, and the BlackBerry Enterprise (BES) server still offers what experts say are high-end security and management features and has name recognition that trails only a small handful of companies.

Research In Motion's response to these changing times - at least part of it - is its BlackBerry Mobile Fusion. The platform, which is an entry in the hot mobile device management (MDM) sector, enables the BES to work with Apple iOS and Google Android devices.

Though not everybody thinks it is a timely idea, it seems like a savvy re-evaluation by RIM. The company has taken some pretty hard knocks during the past few months - including one that spoke to its core competency - and is threatened with marginalization. It needed to do something dramatic.

The question is whether this is a baby step in the transformation of RIM to an MDM company. Such makeovers are not unheard of. Just check out what Apple was known for before the first iPhone. The press release doesn't suggest that the company is in denial about the change in the landscape:

The enterprise market for smartphones and tablets continues to grow in both the company-provisioned and employee-owned (Bring Your Own Device or BYOD) categories. BYOD in particular has led to an increase in the diversity of mobile devices in use in the enterprise and new challenges for CIOs and IT departments as they struggle to manage and control wireless access to confidential company information on the corporate network. This has resulted in increased demand for mobile device management solutions.

None of verbiage is controversial. What is interesting is that it is coming from the firm that stands to lose the most from its accuracy. The "whither RIM" speculation will become hot during the next few months. Ars Technica looks at it this way:

It's possible that Mobile Fusion could give BlackBerry the opportunity to hang on to its mobile device management customer base (which the company claims includes 90 percent of the Fortune 500), or at least delay their decisions to move to multiple platform mobile device management tools from companies such as Good Technology (which is making inroads with RIM's government customers) and MobileIron. On the other hand, it could shoot RIM's handset business in the foot, as large companies dump the BlackBerry en masse and move to iOS and Android.

Apple saw the changing landscape. More accurately, Steve Jobs and his lieutenants saw the opportunity and catalyzed the change. Microsoft didn't and the numbers from Nielsen and others show the price it is paying. It's not RIM's fault that a bunch of companies employing really smart people are horning in on its traditional market. It would be its fault if it ignored it. To its credit, RIM clearly recognizes that its salad days are over. There is, however, no reason that its second act won't be a success.

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