5 changes BlackBerry must make to have a ghost of a chance

The company that once defined the smartphone needs to look elsewhere for its future

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4. Broaden its security and management platform

BlackBerry's BES is so entrenched in business and government that it accounts for half of the mobile device management deployments in use today -- a remarkable base for a company whose devices few people still buy. That's why BlackBerry bought Ubitexx a few years ago to provide the iOS and Android management tools in what is now BES10. It hoped to keep its BlackBerry management business and pull in iOS and Android devices, too.

That was a smart strategy, but as usual BlackBerry executed it several years too late. By last spring, when BES10 was actually available for such joint management, companies that needed to secure and manage first iOS devices and later Android devices had long deployed one of the dozens of MDM tools available, with the server products from AirWatch (now owned by EMC VMware), Good Technology, and MobileIron taking the lion's share of the market.

Nearly every company that might deploy BES10 already had a tool in place to manage iOS and Android. So why bother with BES10? That logic clearly prevented sales of the BlackBerry Z10, Z30, and Q10, because IT saw little reason to add BES10 to its costs in addition to BES5 and the iOS/Android MDM tool of choice -- especially for a new, untested device.

Plus, although BlackBerry offers more mobile security capabilities than anyone else, it doesn't provide much in terms of content and application management, where Apple leads the market by far in its iOS 7 APIs and where leading MDM vendors turned their attention in 2012. BES10 supports app segregation on BlackBerrys, but it's a laggard for such management on iOS and Android.

BlackBerry needs to be a leader in not just security management but also application and content management on iOS and Android, as well as on its own devices. It would be even smarter to extend that management to Windows and OS X, as companies are increasingly overprotecting mobile devices while underprotecting the riskiest devices: computers. The first company that offers a holistic, user-supporting approach for any device could tempt companies to ditch their suite of separate tools. That's a big opportunity, and several MDM vendors are already looking at it. Still, the BlackBerry name gives that company an advantage, if it delivers on both the tech and timing.

BlackBerry also has its own secure network, deployed at carrier and enterprise locations through what are called network operations centers, or NOCs. The company makes money on those secure networks, which is why many carriers charge users an extra monthly fee to handle BES-connected BlackBerrys. If the company could figure out how to extend the NOC to other platforms, it could be the secure subnet for the Internet. That's a huge opportunity.

I realize BlackBerry has a daunting challenge: Its security technologies were developed for a proprietary set of devices over which BlackBerry had full control. It's hard to rework these legacy technologies to support "foreign" devices, and in some cases it's impossible to do so (which is why President Barack Obama can't get his desired iPhone until he leaves office). This challenge affects BES, BBM, and the NOCs -- all of which are key BlackBerry assets.

But if BlackBerry can solve this dilemma, it could be the secure Internet subnet others rely on. Licensing the required supporting technologies to Apple and Android device makers coud jump-start this business -- after all, they licensed Microsoft's Exchange ActiveSync protocol as the basis for their remote management, making EAS the standard everyone uses. I bet these other companies would be happy to tap into such a BlackBerry secure subnet, because they're clearly not interested in tackling this themselves -- nor do they have the expertise to do so.

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