RIM reveals mobile device management tool for local enterprises; supports iOS and Androids
But challenges for RIM run deeper; fundamentals need to be addressed, opines analyst
RESEARCH in Motion (RIM) has made available to Malaysian enterprises what it claims to be a cost-efficient, secure, reliable and scalable mobile device management solution (MDM) in the form of the BlackBerry Mobile Fusion Platform (MFP).
The Ontario, Canada-based smartphone maker said its MFP solution is able to consolidate the management of smartphones and tablets running the BlackBerry operating system, including support for BlackBerry Playbook and up-and-coming BlackBerry 10 devices. MFP also supports Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android devices but with varying degrees of control and manageability, said RIM.
Speaking to the media last week, Daniel Pratt, solution specialist for RIM, said the MFP solution integrates the features and security architecture of BlackBerry Enterprise Server (version 5.0.3), which provides advanced IT management and controls on a single outbound security connection (256-bit AES encrypted “BlackBerry VPN”).
Pratt (pic) added that with MFP, enterprises are able to apply enforceable IT policies, support for BlackBerry Balance technology, and over-the-air app and software installation capabilities for the management of BlackBerry smartphones and PlayBook tablets, as well as future BlackBerry 10 devices.
However, he conceded that the MFP does not have the same breadth of control features it has over enterprises using an end-to-end BlackBerry infrastructure. For instance, MFP cannot implement BlackBerry Balance technology on iOS and Android devices.
BlackBerry Balance is a technology that allows enterprise IT administrators to provision policies to separate personal and business applications and data on a user’s device so that the two can be kept distinct from each other.
“It’s not a BlackBerry product so we can’t implement BlackBerry Balance on iOS and Android devices. There is currently no way to do this, not with the application programming interfaces (APIs) that they’ve given us,” Pratt said.
Asked what were the differentiators in BlackBerry’s MFP compared to other competing MDM software in the market, Pratt said the differentiators are for those who already have a BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) as it allows them to manage BlackBerrys, Playbooks and BlackBerry 10 devices when they come out, and to do so from one interface.
“Most people I’ve spoken to are BlackBerry customers already, and for these, it’s one vendor, one support, and one interface,” Pratt pointed out. “For other companies that don’t have [a BlackBerry infrastructure], they would want to try it out because of our feature set and because of our brand.”
Pressed further as to why any enterprise that does not have a BlackBerry infrastructure would want to use the MFP, Pratt said, “I don’t know if the value proposition is more [or less] because people who don’t have a BlackBerry infrastructure still want to control [bring your own] devices.
“There is an option of going out there and getting competing software but the MFP is still a product that does what it does [MDM], and it still has a proposition there, but for those who have BES, it brings it all together.”
According to Richard Absalom, consumer impact IT, Ovum, BlackBerry’s MFP generally looks like a solid MDM tool with all the expected features in place: device authentication, configuration, and enrolment; password policy enforcement; remote lock and wipe; profile management; and app provision and management.
Asked if he thought the MFP was a game changer in the industry, Absalom said in an e-mail interview with Digital News Asia, “I'm not sure I would call it a game changer for RIM though. Fast-growing as the enterprise mobility management (EMM) services segment is, the success in this market for RIM would not make up for the decline it is going through in its core hardware business.
The analyst noted that the success of BlackBerry’s MFP is also not a certainty as RIM is up against some very strong competition, with a wide range of vendors approaching the space including EMM specialists.
Some of these include AirWatch, MobileIron, BoxTone, SOTI, Fiberlink, Zenprise and some of the bigger names in IT applications such as SAP, Sybase; services in IBM and security in Symantec, McAfee.
“RIM will have to continue developing its support features for iOS and Android very quickly in order to keep up with its competitors,” Absalom.
RIM challenges run deeper
Over the past two years, RIM as a corporate entity has taken a severe beating as many analysts believe the once-corporate darling of smartphone devices struggled to keep pace with rivals, namely Apple’s iPhones as well as a slew of Android devices that have hit the market, notably Samsung’s Galaxy line of smartphones.
As recent as June, RIM reported that it lost US$192 million for the first quarter ending June 2, while revenue declined 43% to US$2.81 billion, according to a Reuters report.
Earlier in January, share prices of RIM reached its nadir as its US-listed shares closed 8.5% lower at US$15.56, for a market capitalization of little more than $8 billion. In the company's heyday, just three-and-a half-years ago, it had a market capitalization around $80 billion, noted another Reuters report. RIM shares traded at US$8.29 as of Friday last week.
Much of its troubles stem from the fact the RIM had over promised on the delivery of its latest and most advanced BlackBerry line of product dubbed BlackBerry (BB) 10, which is to be based on a new operating system known as QNX. The new devices were slated to arrive late last year but have since been postponed several times. The BB 10 is now only expected to arrive late this year, at the earliest, but more likely only early next year.
Other troubles facing RIM relate to the flop of its early BlackBerry Playbook tablet device last year, an outage that hit its servers last October, as well as the reluctance by programmers to develop applications for the platform compared to the myriads who do for iOS and Android.
Appeal for iOS, Android users?
As to how the limited functionality in the MFP feature set for iOS and Android devices affects BlackBerry’s overall strategy as an enterprise smartphone device maker, Ovum's Absalom acknowledged that RIM is still the dominant device vendor in this space, even if it is quickly losing ground to iOS and Android.
He added that the MFP launch is an acknowledgement from RIM that its BES customers are facing high demand from employees to have a greater choice of devices to use at work.
“RIM wants to enable this choice but not at the expense of its customers moving away entirely from its BlackBerry [product range],” he explained. “Mobile Fusion is a way of staying relevant in the face of consumerization/bring your own device (BYOD) space.
“For customers that are familiar with and happy with BES but face employee demand for BYOD, Mobile Fusion could provide a happy medium.”
As for enterprises not having BES in their infrastructure, Absalom acknowledged that it won't be particularly attractive to these, as there are other MDM/EMM solutions around that offer more complete support for iOS and Android
“But again it's important to remember that the existing BlackBerry installed base is huge,” he pointed out. “If RIM can keep hold of these customers then it will have a bigger market than the huge majority of its competitors in the EMM space.”
The Ovum analyst also believes while the MFP could do well as an MDM tool, the competition and growth in the MDM market is such that “it's a bit of a fool's game” to predict which vendors will come out on top after the inevitable coming phase of consolidation.
“But the success or failure of Mobile Fusion will not make or break RIM; its issues go deeper than that. RIM needs to be making and marketing devices that people want to use over iOS, Android or even Windows 8, both in a personal and working context.
“The MFP working well with PlayBook and BB 10 devices will only be significant if those devices actually see significant uptake.”
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