This year has been something of a rollercoaster ride for BlackBerry, as the smartphone maker launched its next-generation handsets based on a brand new operating system in a bid to reclaim market share it has lost to Apple and Android devices over the past couple of years.
However, sales of the new BlackBerry 10 devices have not matched up to the firm's expectations so far, leading some industry observers to predict that BlackBerry will be crowded out of a market dominated by the triumvirate of Apple, Android and Windows Phone.
The firm was further hit by the collapse of a proposed takeover deal by a group of investors last month, which would have seen BlackBerry taken into private ownership and potentially able to restructure itself behind closed doors without the public scrutiny of shareholders and analysts.
However, there is still room for BlackBerry devices to find a niche among users that have traditionally used its handsets, such as the financial market and government departments, which have demanding requirements around security and management.
But even if the BlackBerry devices do wither away, the firm still has another product line that is proving successful, its BlackBerry Enterprise Service (BES) – the back-end platform that provides the security and management as well as connecting mobile users with corporate resources behind the firewall.
The BES 10 platform launched earlier this year just before the BlackBerry 10 handsets, and gave customers the ability to manage Android and Apple iOS devices alongside BlackBerry kit. This has proven popular, with some 30,000 BES 10 deployments by customers so far, BlackBerry has claimed.
With the latest BES 10.2 release announced early in December, BlackBerry is further pushing it as a strategic enterprise mobility platform, claiming that it offers capabilities and flexibility beyond those available in other mobile device management tools.
For example, administrators can now choose to manage just the Secure Work Space container that sits on Android and iOS devices, rather than enrolling the entire device itself, making it easier for customers to support bring-your-own-device (BYOD) schemes in the workplace.
Starting from 1 January, customers will also be able to repurpose existing endpoint licences, transferring any licences for BlackBerry smartphone to Android or iOS devices.
In fact, BlackBerry said it could envision BES being used even in companies that do not operate BlackBerry smartphones at all.
"Our mission is to get the message out that BlackBerry and BES is about managing mobility. You could just use iPads if you wanted to," BlackBerry's Security Advisory chief Sinisha Patkovic, told V3.
BES has long been accredited as the most secure mobility platform available, with end-to-end encryption of data over a dedicated VPN connection between BES and the device, plus encryption of data on the device itself.
With BES 10.2, BlackBerry now says it can now offer firms the flexibility to operate the level of security they require. Organisations can start with fairly basic-level security, but if they start to do business with government departments or other customers that require a so-called "corporate liable" level of security, they can simply turn this on, BlackBerry claims.
What all this means is that BlackBerry realises that the modern enterprise is a heterogeneous environment as far as mobile platforms go, and is aiming to turn BES into a universal service capable of meeting the mobility requirements of businesses, whether the customer uses BlackBerry smartphones or not.
If it can succeed with this vision, BlackBerry could secure a future as the gold standard of enterprise mobility services, regardless of whether its BlackBerry smartphones succeed or fall by the wayside.
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