As business goes increasingly mobile, Research In Motion Ltd. is getting ready to cash in on its reputation for wireless security – even if the devices being secured are not BlackBerrys but iPads.
On Tuesday, RIM plans to announce a global upgrade of its BlackBerry Enterprise Server, which companies use to ensure sensitive, corporate data doesn't leak beyond their employees.
The new upgrade, which flows from the company's acquisition in May of mobile device management firm ubitexx, will accommodate Apple Inc.'s iPhones and iPads, which many business users own in addition to their work BlackBerrys, as well as devices running Google Inc.'s Android mobile operating system.
That should keep customers reliant on RIM's secure servers, even as more consumer-focused mobile devices replace the company's core BlackBerry products, and elbow aside other companies wanting to push into the secure mobile device management space.
"People have told us things have changed," says Alan Panezic, a vice-president of RIM's platform product management group, noting younger tech savvy workers want to bring their own mobile devices to work.
"Customers are telling us, 'We would like RIM to step into this space to manage not just BlackBerry devices, but other devices' … to manage iPhones, iPads and the wide plethora of Android devices that are out there."
RIM also hopes that BlackBerry Mobile Fusion – which is what the Waterloo, Ont.-based tech giant is calling the revamped service – will drive sales of its PlayBook tablet computer.
The service's first-quarter launch is timed to coincide with a PlayBook software upgrade in February, 2012, which should finally give RIM's weak-selling tablet a native e-mail application. Currently, PlayBooks can only access an enterprise e-mail account when tethered to a BlackBerry smart phone's mobile Internet connection.
When asked if RIM thinks this move will accelerate adoption of the PlayBook among corporate users, Mr. Panezic, who has recently met with multiple Fortune 200 companies, said "very much so."
The move to upgrade its corporate services may bring in extra revenue through additional device access licensing fees, but is unlikely to be a huge money maker, says Scotia Capital analyst Gus Papageorgiou.
He remains bullish on RIM, which remains profitable even as other analysts have downgraded the company through recent troubles, which include missed earnings, a plummeting stock price and shrinking global market share. It's also a way to corner the profitable niche market for mobile device and risk management and push away companies such as Good Technology and Fixmo Inc., which is based partly in Toronto and recently raised $23-million venture capital funding.
"It's a way to kind of get rid of third-party software, keep everything in the BES [BlackBerry Enterprise Server] make it easier for the corporate clients and address their needs," Mr. Papageorgiou said. "It's them saying we hear you, we're going to make life easier for you, even though we're not going to make a lot of money off this."
Part of the new service, Mr. Panezic said, would enable enterprise applications for the PlayBook to be dished out through BlackBerry App World, with companies choosing either to have individual employees download them from a company-specific portal or have apps preinstalled on enterprise devices. On the updated operating system for the PlayBook, he added, work apps could appear with a lock icon, requiring a password to access.