Sunday, 01 June 2014 10:44

BlackBerry – An Australian perspective Featured

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Reports of BlackBerry’s death have been greatly exaggerated. The company is reinventing itself as an enterprise mobile management company.

The numbers are not good. Smartphone market share figures from Gartner and IDC and others all have BlackBerry down at around 1% of worldwide market share figures. The once ubiquitous handsets are becoming a novelty, as iPhones and Androids, and now Windows Phones, become the business handsets of choice.

Over the last year iTWire has reported at length on BlackBerry’s decline – how the Z10 and Q10 were to have saved the company and didn’t, how CEO Thorsten Heins was forced out, how the company was put out for sale.

But we have also reported on the company’s rebirth. New CEO John Chen has given the company new direction. BlackBerry is still in the handset game, but that seems increasingly secondary to the company’s software and services business.

To get a perspective on BlackBerry in Australia, and to get a feel for the company’s new direction, iTWire spoke to Matt Ball, managing director of BlackBerry Australia. He is, as you might expect, bullish about the company and what it has to offer its customers.

““We have significant challenges, it’s true,” says Ball. “But we also have significant opportunities. When John Chen took over he said he would play to BlackBerry’s strengths, particularly in the enterprise space. You could hear the sighs of relief.”

And the biggest strength, says Ball, is BlackBerry Enterprise Server, now in its BES10 version. BES10 is an enterprise mobile device management (MDM) platform that can manage Apple and Android devices, as well as BlackBerry handsets. BES12, due later this year, will add Windows Phone devices to that list.

The MDM market has grown strongly in recent years, as a range of phones and tablets proliferate in the workplace, but the market is fragmented. BlackBerry believes that with its background and reputation in handset security it can be a major player in the MDM space.

“BYOD – bring your own device – and CYOD –choose your own device – are realities for most enterprises today. They need a strategy to manage and secure these devices. BlackBerry’s great strength has always been its security. BES10 is the best solution for secure device, application and content management.”

And many Australian enterprises are listening to the story, says Ball. He reels off a list of customers, mostly in the Government space – the Australian Taxation Office, the Australian National Audit Office, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.

“These Government agencies are doing pretty clever stuff around MDM,” he says. “The NSW Government has adopted BES10 as its preferred MDM solution.” Ball mentions recent figures from Australian market research company Telsyte which found that BlackBerry BES10 was the most widely used MDM system in a fragmented market, followed by AirWatch, MobileIron, Good Technology and SAP.

Ball says BlackBerry has four lines of business: the devices (which he doesn’t talk much about). Enterprise (which he talks about a lot), embedded systems and BlackBerry Messenger (BBM). BBM has been a bit of a sleeper in Australia, but Balls says it is now picking up with real-time voice and video.

The embedded systems business seems and interesting one. In 2010 BlackBerry acquired a company called QNX, which has a Unix-like microkernel operating system used in a wide variety of devices from flight simulators to health monitors.

Just last week BlackBerry announced Project Ion, the “cornerstone of BlackBerry’s vision to offer end-to-end solutions for the Internet of Things.” Announcing the project, John Chen said that BlackBerry is uniquely placed to provide the technological building blocks to operate in this space.

“We’re at a very interesting point in the industry,” says Ball. “The number and range of devices is growing, and embedded computing is becoming much more important. With the Internet of Things, it’s growing exponentially. I think BlackBerry is very well placed with our strengths in this area.

“We have the ecosystem. We have gold standard security. We have the embedded systems expertise.”

But will it be enough? Just yesterday CEO John Chen said at a conference in the US that he believed BlackBerry had moved from having a 50:50 chance of survival a year ago to having an 80:20 chance. Ball wants to make that 100:0.

“We’re here for the long term. The world is changing, and so is BlackBerry. We’re here to partner with our enterprise customers, and they are on board.”


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Graeme Philipson

Graeme Philipson is senior associate editor at iTWire. He is one of Australia’s longest serving and most experienced IT journalists. He is author of the only definitive history of the Australian IT industry, ‘A Vision Splendid: The History of Australian Computing.’

He has been in the high tech industry for more than 30 years, most of that time as a market researcher, analyst and journalist. He was founding editor of MIS magazine, and is a former editor of Computerworld Australia. He was a research director for Gartner Asia Pacific and research manager for the Yankee Group Australia. He was a long time weekly IT columnist in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, and is a recipient of the Kester Award for lifetime achievement in IT journalism.

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