BlackBerries and BYOD: RIM makes its play

Research in Motion's BlackBerry may be losing market share to Android and iPhone devices in the smartphone market, but the company is betting it can retain a firm grip on the back end by expanding its mobile device management software offerings to include Android, iPhone and other non-BlackBerry devices.  RIM has a shot in this space: Its management tools for BlackBerry are well established in the enterprise, and the race to construct mature management tool suites on the back end that can handle a heterogenous mix of smart phones -- both company issued and employee owned -- is still in flux.

RIM certainly has the pedigree to bring it all together. The company has a solid reputation for securely managing BlackBerries used in the enterprise, and it has an evolving BYOD strategy that it hopes will help bring all devices under that umbrella.

Here's the play:

  • BlackBerry Enterprise Server. Existing BlackBerry devices will continue to stay on RIM's core BlackBerry-only management platform.
  • BlackBerry Mobile Fusion. RIM's next-generation management platform runs in parallel with BES and supports a heterogenous mix of smartphones, including Android, iPhone, BlackBerry 10 and higher and PlayBook 2.0 and higher devices.
  • BlackBerry Balance, a feature embedded in the current versions of BES and Mobile Fusion, allows very granular control over user-owned BlackBerry 7.0+ and PlayBook devices. Rather than locking down and controlling the user's entire phone -- a big turnoff for some employees -- admins issue policy controls that encrypt and control access to only the corporate apps and data that the business cares about. The capability to do something similar for non-BlackBerry devices isn't in place yet, but Peter Devenyi, senior vice president of enterprise software at RIM, says that the vendor stated at BlackBerry world that the new feature would be available no later than May, 2013.
  • Unified management console. RIM offers a single mangement console that lets you control all devices on both management platforms -- a feature that admins are saying would be a definite plus.

Containment strategy

The critical issue with BYOD is who controls the device. Some users don't want IT accessing their personal apps and data, or controlling, erasing and otherwise stepping on every aspect of their personal smartphone.

Because RIM controls the BlackBerry hardware and OS, it can offer fine-grained policy controls that can leave a portion of the device in the users control while protecting corporate apps and data. Achieving the same result when managing Android and iOS devices requires a separate "containerization" strategy.

RIM has more than 500 baked-in policy controls that allow it to selectively manage corporate apps and data on an employee-owned BlackBerry. "There is a clear separation at the OS level in the device between personal and corporate apps, services and data," says Devenyi. For example, Mobile Fusion can prevent a user from cutting data from an Exchange email and pasting it into a personal email message. Unauthorized functions are blocked as they are attempted.

On Android and iPhone devices you don't have that kind of tight integration between the handset and the the mobile management platforms, so vendors have developed specialized containerization tools that create a separate, encrypted space where corporate apps and data can be installed and managed. In this way, administrators can ensure that, for example, only corporate apps and data are erased, rather than the entire device.

Management tool vendors offer three different containerization approaches: One creates a separate virtual machine; another approach carves out an encrypted, protected space where business apps and data can reside; and the third constructs a protective policy wrapper, or container, around each individual app and its associated data.

RIM adds a wrapper

RIM is taking the app wrapper approach, and in so doing is catching up with what many other vendors are already doingin the BYOD management tool space. In one sense RIM has lost a key advantage here, since with Android and iPhone devices it no longer controls the end point hardware and OS as it does with the BlackBerry. From that perspective, the playing field has been leveled. In addition, RIM faces additional competition over the next few years as mobile management tool platforms eventually converge with desktop and laptop management tools. When that day comes, Devenyi insists that RIM will be ready.

Right now, however, the focus is on managing a mix of BYOD smartphones and tablets, including the incumbent BlackBerries. RIM's advantage is that its management tools are well established in most large businesses -- it claims to have an installed base of more than 200,000 BlackBerry Enterprise Servers and a customer base that includes more than 90% of the Fortune 500. RIM's technology is both respected and well understood.

While other management tool vendors can support a mix of devices including BlackBerry, most tools are still maturing in the market, and it's doubtful that any competing product can beat RIM's offerings when it comes to managing that vendor's own BlackBerry devices.

For businesses that don't use BlackBerries at all or are eliminating them altogether, RIM has a less compelling story. But for RIM enterprise customers who already support BlackBerrys, are experimenting with BYOD and want both strong security and user-friendly policy controls, waiting for RIM's offering might be your best strategy.

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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