Is BlackBerry Back?

By Lori Castle, Editor in Chief — March 04, 2013

“As I'm sure all of you know, particularly here in New York, a decade ago, BlackBerry defined mobile communications/enterprise mobility, and we all watched, again particularly here in New York, as we became a global, iconic brand around mobility," said Richard Piasentin, vice president and managing director, U.S. Sales, Marketing and Operations, BlackBerry. He was addressing a room full of business decision makers, IT managers and end users at the BlackBerry Enterprise Forum in New York on March 4, where Mobile Enterprise was also in attendance.
 
"The past year has been a year of transition. Sometimes transitions are very difficult, and, I would probably go further and say we definitely tested your patience,” he said. Piasentin also acknowledged BlackBerry’s appreciation for “the level of patience” customers had, and explained, "A couple of years ago, RIM [he used RIM intentionally] stopped listening to its most important clients, both from an enterprise perspective and from an end user perspective. Those days are over."

Sort of...

While the BlackBerry 10 platform has been released, and the Z10 is available in several countries, no firm date has been set yet for the United States. CEO Thorsten Heins, during the BlackBerry 10 launch, cited carrier process as the hold up. Still, Piastentin proclaimed, "We re-designed; we re-engineered; and we re-invented the product, and very largely we have done the same thing with the company itself."

A Complete Product
He continued, "Again, from everybody at BlackBerry we absolutely recognize the fact that if it hadn't been for the patience and loyalty of IT enterprises like yourselves, we wouldn't be here today. Thank you for that patience."

He pointed out that the mobile industry is defined by innovation and credited BlackBerry’s “core innovation DNA” for its success in the past. To that end, he said, “We truly believe that with BlackBerry 10 and BES 10, we are extending that even further."

He called BlackBerry’s strategic partnership and collaboration with the enterprise “really unique.” They develop specifically for the needs of enterprises and “will be listening." Judging by the attendees, it would appear that the BlackBerry end user community is listening as well.

In addition, regarding industry analysts who have routinely been hard on BlackBerry, Piasentin said they are beginning to see a shift there too. He cited Yankee Group in particular. He also noted a “significant shift” in the media around the BlackBerry sentiment since Q3 2012 and he addressed the fact that the platform wasn’t launched then. “It was a difficult decision to not release the product last year. We wanted it to be as perfect and complete as it could be.”

In Your Hands
Indeed, having it be complete was essential for BlackBerry as anything less could fully diminish the company. And it’s clear that as anxious as the awaiting end user is, no more so than BlackBerry itself. "We cannot wait to get this platform — this solution — into your hands,” said Piasentin.

However, to a certain extent, it is already in the hands of the enterprise through a Tech Preview Program that went out to over 130 major businesses (many of them Fortune 500.) This provided early exposure to final hardware and the BlackBerry 10 Enterprise Server was implemented into their production environment.

"The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive," he said. "Their impression of the platform is that it transcends any one of great industrial designs, has great specifications and a robust ecosystem, security, and, of course, fun. Fun is important. Sometimes BlackBerry is the smartphone that fun forgot. That is no longer the case."

Launched in Canada, United Kingdom, France, Middle East, South Africa, Germany and a few other places, the results have been good, particularly in Canada. Piasentin said, "We saw a performance with the Canadian launch that is 50% better on first day sales than any other launch that we had in our history."  Hometown advantage aside, he said that those are “solid results."

Enterprise Strategy
He outlined four main areas for enterprise strategy.
  1. Device management - simplified and unified across platform
  2. Security – BlackBerry is the “gold standard” and it’s been expanded with BlackBerry 10."
  3. Unified communications
  4. Applications - critical to success of the platform
"From both a personal and IT perspective, this really is the perfect bring your own device with no compromises on either side," according to Plasentin. "The minute we launch this platform with the carriers in the U.S. you can attach those devices directly to your enterprise."

BYOD Out of the Gate
Jeff Holleran, senior director of enterprise product management, echoed this declaration. "When we launch here in the United States in just a couple of short weeks, we are enterprise ready right out of the gate."

Devices are set up to go with ActiveSync to connect directly into messaging systems. During re-engineering, "We said —‘you know what’ — we can expand the reach; more messaging platforms, more commonality without going into proprietary per platform," he explained. The BES10 platform is designed to be fully extendible across all mobile devices from existing BES infrastructure to Playbooks and iOS and Android devices.

Simplicity
The secure infrastructure runs on a global network. "No more SMTP emails for enterprise activations," Holleran said. The same exact process as adding a personal address will allow a user to add on and connect as an enterprise user.

This is not the only thing “simplified on BlackBerry 10. Holleran gives an example, "What's that phone call that every one of us in IT has ever gotten? Password policy.” One executive may want his first name to be used as a password, or something less complex than what was assigned, for instance. "We built exception policy to get around that," he said.

As Piasentin said, security remains very important and continues to be a key pillar for BlackBerry. Holleran said that is easier too. "What we've done has simplified the experience for the end user. As we enroll a device, it is automatically provisioned with Balance. It was set up with the right policies to make sure that information is safe and secure for the work data without needing to go and turn many of the knobs and dials for policies that we may have asked you to turn in the past."

In fact, two underlying goals for BlackBerry 10 are providing a comprehensive security platform and providing the “best BYOD experience in the marketplace.” The platform is meant to give “privacy to the end-user and control to the enterprise.”

Part of successful BYOD is, of course, providing apps — not only ones that work for the enterprise and live on the work side, but the “fun” apps as well. Knowing that apps were a huge question when it comes to BlackBerry, and a challenge not addressed in the past, there were 70,000 apps available at launch.
 
The company is spending a lot of time focusing on developing enterprise app partners, as well as enabling app developers. Holleran explains, "As we look at applications, we know it was challenging to write applications on BlackBerry OS devices. Special experience was required. As we move to BB10, our commitment is to make it the easiest platform to develop applications for." It offers support for HTML5, Cascades, Native, C++, Open Source, etc.
 
BlackBerry Gets Picked
Reaffirming that BlackBerry 10 addresses all the issues an enterprise might have around managing mobility, Piasentin said, "We solved that VPN problem. You're not tearing down that VPN connection. We also have the ability to push — push content is so important; it allows you to push notifications to your end users so they see something new has come in but it also allows them to work offline, a very critical piece when building mobile applications.Third, we built in application management so you can manage applications behind a firewall, from a public store, or any way you want to slice and dice it. The Open Standards Platform for HTML5 now makes it very easy for a developer to build applications for both enterprise as well as personal.”

To help organizations make the transition, the BlackBerry Ready Program was created. He said that they are committed to making sure the transition to BlackBerry 10 is “as simple and efficient as we can make it.” The program is a key element to the enterprise strategy, and offers consulting services to plan for migration. Part of the program is a webcast series that aggregates all information needed in order to plan migration.

Is BlackBerry back? Piasentin concluded, "Since launching the BlackBerry 10 Ready Program on December 6, 4,200 unique companies in North America have registered for the offer."

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