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While I respect our new Editor-in-Chief Dan Costa's decision to decline his inheritance—former Editor-in-Chief Lance Ulanoff's Blackberry—his refusal to use a company-issued phone that's already configured to work within IT's infrastructure exemplifies the ongoing support nightmare IT is currently facing when employees want to use personal devices in the office. Dan's objections aside, RIM remains a solid choice for businesses with its tablets and smartphones. For IT infrastructures, particularly those who must adhere to rigid corporate or government-mandated compliance requirements, the BlackBerry ecosystem is unmatched in security and manageability for smartphones—and, yes, tablets (thanks to the Playbook).
The Apple Effect
My position in no way denigrates the obvious competition, the iOS and Android platforms. While Apple's iPhone and iPad in particular are being used in clever, creative ways by business (largely, I would argue, by smaller businesses), Apple does not need to cater to enterprise because its consumer base is so huge. Of course, Apple makes business products; the Mac mini server and now, the OS X Lion Server. However, those products are targeted more for the SMB sector or businesses that are all-Apple shops. For example, Apple recommends the Mac mini server for workgroups of up to 50 people. Apple's enterprise offering, the rack unit Xserve servers, have been discontinued. While the Mac Pro server takes XServe's place, it's easy to see that Apple's real efforts in the space are squarely behind the Mac mini.
Android smartphones, like Apple devices, have a loyal, dedicated following. Yet support, updates and apps are at the whims of so many parties—Google, smartphone carriers, and third-party app developers—that business IT is leery to adopt them. The variations among the Android phones make them a challenge for IT to support as well. Why? Look no further than the recent Android 2.2 debacle. Google released the Froyo update, which extended functionality and addressed some issues in the prior Android OS. While some handsets got the update, other users waited painfully long for the release. Sony Ericsson stated outright at one point that the Xperia X10 would not be upgraded to Froyo, but was forced to change its position due to the outcry from customers, eventually going all the way to Gingerbread.
Imagine what a tremendous support problem such a fragmented upgrade process would bring if an IT department were to allow users to bring all of the various types of Android phones into the network? Even if IT deployed one specific Android phone, on one specific carrier to employees, what would happen if that phone, on that carrier, was one of the ones that never got upgraded?
Windows Phone 7 would, at first glance, appear to be a strong alternative for business because of Windows' dominance in the enterprise. But that's not the case. My partner has a Windows Phone 7 device and, while he is a fan, I am amazed by how enmeshed the device is with Microsoft's consumer offerings. It heavily integrates with Xbox and requires Zune for multimedia file management. Windows Phone 7's target is clearly the consumer.
That leaves us with RIM. Yes, Blackberry is losing status as a cool and sexy device, but cool and sexy is not what IT needs. The constant attention on the enterprise that RIM delivers is what business needs. A few examples of RIM's dead-on enterprise focus:
E-mail: Like it or not, most businesses run Microsoft Exchange for corporate communications. Apple has made great strides in making iOS compatible with Exchange servers. Yet issues still crop up when the iPhone's operating system gets updated. When iOS 4 debuted last year, iPhones running iOS4 had problems speaking with Exchange Active Sync Recently, a problem was discovered with iOS 5 and Exchange Active Sync policies that were configured to require storage encryption, a security setting that some businesses must deploy.
Android also supports Exchange, but the wide variety of handsets, each by the carriers, each with custom interface skins, result in a platform with no uniform across-the-board experience. Third-party apps, which are often used to make Exchange and Android work in near-perfect unison, are cause for IT headaches. Apps can sometimes break with OS updates. Lone or small groups of developers who create the apps may not have the resources to provide enterprise-level support.
With BlackBerry Enterprise Server, RIM has an extensive history in Exchange support. BlackBerry Enterprise Server 5.0 is fully certified to work with Exchange 2010 and comes with full technical support services, which is critical for IT. With full support, IT has an almost guarantee of faster turnaround time for solution of any BlackBerry problems, and RIM can be held accountable if they don't deliver as promised.
I predict Office 365 eventually unseating on-premises Microsoft software, especially hosted Exchange Server. RIM must foresee this as well, because the company already has made provisions for Office 365 support. In March, RIM announced a new hosted BlackBerry service for Office 365.
Security: To date, RIM's PlayBook tablet is the only tablet to have Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) compliance. FIPS is mandatory for devices used by the U.S. government. BlackBerry also addresses HIPPA compliance, publishing a detailed whitepaper. Yale University conducted an interesting study concluding that the BlackBerry was indeed HIPAA compliant (when used with BlackBerry Enterprise Server and Exchange). The institution declared the iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, and iPad HIPAA compliant as well when used with Exchange. Android, on the other hand, lacks compliance, according to the study. BlackBerry has a good reputation when it comes to secure communications.
IT Management: BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) is all about giving control to IT. It allows organizations to granularly manage BlackBerry devices, set policies, and perform remote wipes in a way that iOS and Android just can't match natively. Sure, there are a host of third-party apps that offer varying levels of IT control over iPhones and Androids, but searching, for example, through the over 250,00 Androids apps that can deliver tools IT needs is time-consuming. Implementing them can be a potential security risk if they are coded poorly. BES offers those controls out of the box.
Enterprise focus: BlackBerry's website has a thriving, frequently updated blog dedicated to the enterprise. Not only is that a good sign of its business-focus, but the blog offers a lot of information for businesses, including good posts for smaller businesses detailing how they can grow with BlackBerry.
Apple's consumer-oriented smartphone strategy is hard to rebut. But that doesn't mean that other vendors have to imitate it to succeed. BlackBerry has had great success with the opposite strategy; a focus on the enterprise. What BlackBerry does best is not instantly revealed in user experience—what's gold is the under-the-hood security and management. BlackBerry is considered stodgy, and so it should remain. What it delivers for business is important. Hopefully, RIM marketers, panting at the success of Apple, won't steer BlackBerry from its biggest fan base: IT. Frankly, RIM can't beat Apple at its own game. But that's fine. We can love our Androids and iPhone when we're off the clock, but, in the office, BlackBerry is still tops.