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BlackBerry facing uphill struggle to win back corporate customers

BlackBerry Chief Executive John Chen looks on during the official launch of the Passport smartphone in Toronto, September 24, 2014.


BlackBerry Ltd.'s attempts to win back big customers appear to be encountering resistance, according to a Wall Street analyst.

In a survey this month of 150 unidentified chief information officers (CIOs) in the U.S. and Europe, Morgan Stanley analyst James Faucette found the number who were willing to evaluate BlackBerry's server software for centrally managing their employees' smartphones had declined to 15 per cent from about 22 per cent last June. Meanwhile, the number that have evaluated BlackBerry's software and decided to take a pass has nearly doubled over that period to 21 respondents.

BlackBerry once had a hammerlock on the corporate and government, or "enterprise" market, but the emergence of rivals in the device management business as well as the embrace by corporations of "bring-your-own-device" policies substantially weakened BlackBerry's position. The company was slow to update its software to allow enterprise users to manage multiple types of devices, while software it introduced to manage its BlackBerry 10 platform was not compatible with its earlier products.

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BlackBerry chief executive officer John Chen has attempted to make up for those stumbles by introducing new software that enables enterprise users to centrally manage all past BlackBerry platforms as well as Apple and Android smartphones.

But those efforts are not registering as Mr. Chen might hope with the CIOs that Mr. Faucette has surveyed. In his report, the analyst said the number of surveyed CIOs who had bought or planned to buy BlackBerry's offering had declined slightly, to 8 per cent in January from October, despite a heavy push by the company to roll out the new all-encompassing server software.

Morgan Stanley, one of BlackBerry's top customers during its heyday, led the 2014 initial public offering of BlackBerry device management rival MobileIron Inc., and is listed as the lead for the upcoming IPO of another competitor, Good Technology Corp.

Last month, Mr. Chen highlighted the fact that 4,900 enterprise customers had signed up for the company's "EZ Pass" offering that enables them to upgrade from older BlackBerry software and from rival offerings to its latest version. That compared to 3,500 in August. However, Mr. Faucette noted recently that those sign-ups only represent "reservations" to buy the new software when a free trial period ends Jan. 31.

A BlackBerry spokesman declined to comment on the report. Mr. Chen said recently that he was frustrated by doubters of his turnaround plan, noting that much of the promised revenue from a slew of initiatives won't start to appear until mid-2015.

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About the Author

Sean Silcoff joined The Globe and Mail in January, 2012, following an 18-year-career in journalism and communications. He previously worked as a columnist and Montreal correspondent for the National Post and as a staff writer at Canadian Business Magazine, where he was project co-ordinator of the magazine's inaugural Rich 100 list. More


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