BlackBerry: A Year In Review
Can BlackBerry Be The Comeback Kid?
For years the market has pronounced the death of BlackBerry. As another year comes to a close, I find myself reflecting on what has transpired with BlackBerry and the mobile industry. The name BlackBerry was synonymous with mobile phones, keyboards and email. Today, some of these elements still hold true. In a market where all smartphones look similar, BlackBerry returned to its signature physical QWERTY keyboard on the recently released Classic and also offered a keyboard on a square shaped phone called the Passport. I had the opportunity to use the Passport and appreciated its screen size and keyboard.
Yet, the mobile market has evolved and so to has BlackBerry. It would be foolish to think of BlackBerry as solely a mobile phone manufacturer. It’s clear that phones are a part of its vision but not the entirety of its vision. Smartphone sales won’t be the linchpin for a market turnaround.
A Year of Big Announcements
For a theoretically dying company, BlackBerry has been very busy. It returned to its roots as an enterprise company and strengthened its position as a security company. It’s defining a path to evolve from a hardware company to a software and services firm. Let’s recap a few of BlackBerry’s accomplishments over the past year. The company:
Bolstered its consumer app story via a partnership. One of the big knocks against BlackBerry (and Microsoft for that matter) was its lack of consumer mobile apps. The ability to run Android apps on a BlackBerry has lessened this concern. To further alleviate this problem, BlackBerry struck a deal with the Amazon Appstore to make it easier to download apps. It also expanded its enterprise focused mobile application ecosystem through partnerships with Bloomberg LP, Box, CellTrak, Cisco, Entrust, SAP, and others.
Made a significant play for the enterprise mobile management market. EMM is a critical part of any enterprise mobile strategy. BlackBerry was known for management of its devices but needed to offer these services across a wider range of mobile operating systems. The company offered cross-platform mobile device management in BES12. It also inked deals with BrightStar and Ingram Micro to distribute BES12.
Bolstered its security across all product categories from phones through software. It purchased Secusmart to provide additional voice and data encryption and anti-eavesdropping solutions. It acquired Movirtu, a Virtual SIM platform that allows employees to have two phone numbers (read split between corporate and personal use) on a single device. It announced BlackBerry Blend for the enterprise which makes it possible for employees to securely accessing personal and work data from their BlackBerry smartphone on any desktop or tablet. It also offered Enterprise Identity by BlackBerry, VPN Authentication by BlackBerry, and BBM Protected (for Android, BlackBerry and iOS platforms). In general, the company has been heavily focused on providing a wide range of security solutions.
Added new partners. In a surprise move, BlackBerry partnered with Samsung to deliver richer mobile security for Android. It also signed a strategic agreement with Salesforce.com to connect Salesforce.com customer relationship management (CRM) apps and platforms to BlackBerry’s EMM solution.
These are just a selection of the company’s announcements. Overall, it was a good year for BlackBerry. The company invested heavily in developing and acquiring solutions to meet enterprise mobility demands. It also quelled fears that it would run out of cash by effectively managing its supply chain, inventory, and expenses.
While it still declined in smartphone market share, phones aren’t the future lifeblood of the company. (In fact, it’s hard for anyone except Apple and Samsung to earn a living at making phones.) I expect smartphones will become just one piece of an integrated, highly secure portfolio that includes software and services. A business customer can either purchase these devices as part of the holistic solution or simply choose to use the software and services.
As I look around the globe, the studies from Lopez Research highlight that companies are reevaluating BYOD. They’re still offering BYO program but many are also considering purchasing devices for their employees (especially for tablets and next generation PCs). In certain areas, specifically regulated and security conscious industries, BlackBerry could see new device purchases as the corporate-liable market regains steam. For example, Mackenzie Health, a regional healthcare provider serving a population of more than half a million people, announced that it will use the BlackBerry Classic and BES12. But the real win for BlackBerry will be in providing new security and identity/authentication services and management for non-traditional devices, such as IoT.
In the Long Run, BlackBerry Is A Software Company
While I’m certain that BlackBerry bashing will continue, BlackBerry has survived yet another year and in far better shape than any of us had expected. It’s stabilized and proven that it can shift its focus to upcoming growth markets such as security, identity and the Internet of Things. The challenge in the coming year is growth as a software company. This is no small feat given that almost half of BlackBerry’s revenue comes from hardware sales. It’s also not easy to grow into a software behemoth. For example, it took Salesforce.com years to become a software powerhouse. It’s not impossible. It just takes time and the financial market is an unforgiving place.
This will be a multiyear journey for BlackBerry. The market should expect BlackBerry’s revenue to take a hit as it manages this transition. With careful money management, the company should the cash ($3 billion) to navigate the transition to a software company. Businesses should evaluate BlackBerry based on its stated direction and execution against that vision. This year has been a good start.
Maribel is the founder of Lopez Research LLC, a market research firm focused on mobility. She’s also the author of the Wiley book “Right-time Experiences: Driving Revenue with Mobile and Big Data.”
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