5 things to consider while preparing for the end of BlackBerry

BlackBerry's secure environment and sophisticated management tools will be hard to replicate on other platforms. Start looking now

With BlackBerry on life support, it's time to accept the likelihood that there won't be a BlackBerry a year from now. Your business be in for a rude awakening if it relies on the once-mighty smartphone for mobile communication and productivity.

You don't need to abandon BlackBerry immediately and run for the lifeboats, but you do need to know what your options are. Here are five things you should start thinking about now in order to prepare for a transition away from BlackBerry.

[ Also on InfoWorld: BlackBerry founders consider buying the beleaguered company. | iOS vs. Android vs. BlackBerry vs. Windows Phone -- see how mobile security measures up in each OS in InfoWorld's breakdown. | Keep up on key mobile developments and insights with the Mobilize newsletter. ]

1. If not BlackBerry, what?

If you've built your entire mobile ecosystem around BlackBerry, the first issue you need to address is which mobile platform (or platforms) you should switch to if BlackBerry ceases to be an option.

"Ownership matters," says John Dasher, vice president of product marketing for Good Technology "Assuming your BlackBerry devices are company-owned, is your go-forward plan the same? Or is BYOD in your future? Or maybe a mixture of the two options? The answer here potentially affects your security model and deployment plan."

Take a step back and consider why your business uses BlackBerry devices. Which BlackBerry features or benefits are most important to your business or your users? With those considerations in mind, you can compare Android, iOS, and Windows Phone to determine which platform(s) can best meet your needs.

2. Mobile device management

BlackBerry essentially invented the concept of mobile device management (MDM). BlackBerry Enterprise Server gives companies direct control over their mobile ecosystem, as well as the tools needed to provision, protect, and manage BlackBerry devices.

BlackBerry is unique among the major mobile device manufacturers in offering its own proprietary ecosystem. Android, iOS, and Windows Phone devices, in contrast, rely on the wireless service providers--and companies that use them have to invest in and implement some sort of third-party MDM system to manage it all.

If you want to switch from BlackBerry to Windows Phone, you're on your own. But if you choose to migrate to iOS, Android, or both, BlackBerry can help. It offers its customers BlackBerry Mobile Fusion, which extends the familiar BES environment so that it can manage Android and iOS devices along with BlackBerry hardware.

It's not a permanent solution, but BlackBerry Mobile Fusion gives you a short-term means of transitioning from BlackBerry by attrition. Eventually, however, you may still need to migrate to a third-party MDM.

3. Secure messaging

One hallmark of BlackBerry is BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), its messaging back end. BlackBerry built its reputation on reliable, secure mobile communications. If you're transitioning from BlackBerry to another mobile platform, the role that BBM used to play for your business will be hard to fill.

"BlackBerry is still the only cell phone provider that bypasses the carriers for messaging," says Rob Enderle, principal analyst with Enderle Group. "Depending on Internet speed, you may be able to use an instant messaging technology, but it will need to be a secure form, the clients will need to be able to run the related software, and you'll likely need a low-latency guarantee of service from your carrier to get this to work."

At first blush, Apple's iMessage may look like a similar platform-specific messaging tool. But iMessage is essentially just SMS text messaging with a little extra Apple polish. BBM has much greater depth of features and is more secure, requiring users to do more than just provide someone's phone number in order to connect and chat.

BlackBerry intended to ease this transition by offering a BBM app for both iOS and Android. The app would have enabled an organization to begin switching to one or both of those platforms, while maintaining the security, reliability, and familiarity of BBM. The apps are currently on hold, however, following a botched launch that caused BlackBerry to pull the whole thing for the time being.

4. Data protection

BlackBerry is synonymous with mobile security. BlackBerry customers are accustomed to end-to-end encryption out of the box and built-in data protection technologies to secure company data against unauthorized access.

Android, iOS, and Windows Phone are--first and foremost--consumer devices. They can function as well as or better than BlackBerry mobile devices in many business and productivity roles, but they treat things like encryption and data protection more as options than as default features.

As you assess your mobile platform options for replacing BlackBerry, consider how each handles the critical job of protecting data--both on the device itself and during its transfer across the airwaves. Make sure that the inherent security features and capabilities of the mobile platform you choose meet your needs, and confirm that your IT admin will be able to manage and enforce security policies on the mobile devices involved.

5. Alternative apps

Good Technology's Dasher stresses that apps are crucial, and should play a significant role in your choice of a mobile platform to replace BlackBerry. "Your BlackBerry is likely used for email, calendar and contacts. In the destination plan, think about the additional apps that are needed to ensure employee productivity."

List all of the BlackBerry apps you depend on: email, contacts, calendar, CRM (customer relationship management), VPN, and any others. Then determine whether those same apps are available on other mobile platforms.

If they're not, you'll have to do additional research to find appropriate alternatives. If you plan to migrate by attrition, make sure that the alternative app can work alongside the BlackBerry app; and check to see whether you can integrate or transfer data from the old app to the new one to smooth the transition.

Stay calm and carry on

Harry Brelsford, founder of SMB Nation and a loyal supporter of BlackBerry, believes that businesses could use up to 24 months to plan and execute the next phase of their mobility strategy. He notes some potentially serious disruptions on the horizon, including how the Nokia/Microsoft deal will play out, and (of course) what company will acquire BlackBerry. The future is murky.

"It's one of those strange times in technology," Brelsford says, "where we don't know what we don't know."

This story, "5 things to consider while preparing for the end of BlackBerry" was originally published by PCWorld.

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