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BlackBerry targets business clients through their employees

John Sims, Blackberry’s president of global enterprise solutions, says the company’s products need to be widely sold in cellular companies’ stores.

Matthew Sherwood/The Globe and Mail

BlackBerry Ltd. may be shifting its focus to business and government customers, but it is still crucial that its phones remain visible in retail outlets, says the head of the company's enterprise division.

John Sims, Blackberry's president of global enterprise solutions, said Monday that products need to be widely sold in cellular companies' stores, and consequently its relationships with the wireless carries who sell handsets are important.

While Blackberry's strategy "is grounded in enterprises," and chief information officers who make decisions on technology "don't go to the local store," Mr. Sims said, it is still "important for us to be present in those environments because their employees go to those stores and they see the devices."

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Workers may get their smartphones from their company, but "they are going to be a lot more comfortable with the device ... if they saw it in a store," he said.

In addition, he noted, many telecommunications companies are shifting their emphasis from selling devices to selling software and services – often to small and medium sized businesses – and BlackBerry wants to help them do that.

Mr. Sims was speaking to reporters after giving a presentation to several hundred business customers in Toronto, the fourth stop in an eight-city road show in North America and Europe, where Blackberry is emphasizing its business-friendly strategy to current and potential clients.

Blackberry's new "centre of gravity" is the desire to help businesses and governments deal with the complexity of managing mobile devices, Mr. Sims told the gathering. And the key to Blackberry's advantage over its competitors on this score is its "deep understanding of security," he said.

Consequently the company is focusing on some vertical markets where security is crucial. That was behind its recent move to buy a minority stake in California-based health-care firm NantHealth, which specializes in real-time, cloud-based information services for doctors and patients.

Blackberry will also look at similar moves in other regulated industries with security issues, Mr. Sims said, including financial services or the energy sector. He noted that oil and gas companies send people around the world to do sensitive exploration work "and then they get on a phone call, or on e-mail, unprotected." They know that in certain countries their calls are being listened to, and their e-mails intercepted by competitors or governments, he said, so "they want secure solutions to protect their intellectual property."

A key part of Blackberry's strategy under its new chief executive officer John Chen is its willingness to support other firms' smartphones – such as Apple and Android devices – on its secure systems which BlackBerry sells to companies to manage their mobile networks.

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Mr. Sims said that flexibility has been evident for some time, but the company is flogging it much more actively.

When BlackBerry introduced its new BES10 mobility management system a year ago, "we kind of ... under our breath mumbled: 'Oh we also support [Apple's] iOS and Android'," he said. "That is not what you will hear from Blackberry these days. What you will hear is ... we support all the platforms."

As part of its shift in focus towards business customers, BlackBerry is promoting a soon-to-be-released encrypted version of its BBM chat software, so businesses can transmit – and track, if necessary – secure information among their employees. Later this year it will launch a new smartphone, Classic Bold, which will restore some of the familiar features from its older devices, such as the popular buttons and track pad that allowed easier navigation.

Mr. Sims said some of BlackBerry's new managers, including himself, decided to join the company because they welcomed the challenge of bringing it back from the brink. "We are here because it is a big challenge and because we think we can get it done," he said. One advantage the new management team has is that "we haven't been here for the whole history of BlackBerry, so there are no sacred cows."

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About the Author
Reporter, Report on Business

Richard Blackwell has reported on Canadian business for more than three decades. At the Financial Post and the Globe and Mail he has covered technology, transportation, investing, banking, securities and media, among many other subjects. Currently, his focus is on green technology and the economy. More

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