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What we learn from BlackBerry era


BlackBerry changed the world. It made wireless
email a killer app that every salesperson and traveling executive
absolutely needed to have to get their work done. It gave us devices
with batteries that lasted a full week, connectivity that made email
feel real-time even over very slow networks, and a user experience that
everyone loved. And, for IT departments, BlackBerry established a
standard of security that protected even the most sensitive information
with comprehensive policy support from a central management console.

Great email and great security were the hallmarks of the BlackBerry
solution and no one else in the first decade of this millennium even
came close to matching them. But the world changed.

Today, there is no shortage of pundits dissecting BlackBerry’s
decline. My goal, however, is to step back and understand the broader
implications of the BlackBerry story. Every CIO faces a tactical issue
today of how and when to migrate from BlackBerry, but the strategy
lessons and corresponding challenges are deeper and further reaching.

Lesson 1: The enterprise smartphone is dead.

Consumerization has won. If a smartphone (or tablet) is not
successful in the consumer market, it will also not be successful in the
enterprise market. If your mobile device vendor isn’t doing well with
consumers, then that vendor will not be financially viable in the long
term, because the economics of mobile device production and distribution
are based on scale. Also, every smartphone in the workplace is a
mixed-use device, regardless of who owns it or what IT policy has been
set. Employees don’t want multiple phones, so they will use theirs for
both personal and business use. That means the smartphone needs to
provide a consumer-grade experience, and any “enterprise” device that
does not do so will not be used for work either.

Lesson 2: The NOC does not rock.

From 2000 to 2010, the network operations center (NOC) model of
wireless email was the enterprise standard. BlackBerry, then called
Research in Motion, ran a NOC through which all corporate email traffic
flowed. When external wireless networks were highly unreliable, the NOC
delivery mechanism and proprietary BlackBerry protocol were necessary to
provide push email, secure transmission, and measurable service
quality. However, the NOC also created a single point of failure outside
the control of the enterprise. As wireless networks improved and
Microsoft’s ActiveSync became the standard protocol for push email, the
value of the NOC diminished. Because of the current financial turmoil
around the company, the BlackBerry NOC has arguably now become a
liability for high security organizations because it is not clear what
vendor or country will eventually control this critical component and
the data that flows through it.

Lesson 3: Email is not enough.

Every user loved BlackBerry email. The end-to-end BlackBerry
solution, from display to keyboard to physical navigation to battery
life to network connectivity, was designed to provide an optimized email
experience that used minimal resources. That’s because the earliest
BlackBerry devices had to live with small monochrome displays, slow
paging networks, 4MB flash memory, and one AA battery. Making business
email work so well with so little was a phenomenal feat. Today, email is
still the killer app for mobile business, but it is not enough. Users
also want a great browsing experience, lots of apps, a sophisticated
screen, and intuitive touch navigation. As a result, an email experience
optimized for battery life and efficient communication will always get
trumped by a data experience optimized for breadth, richness, and

Lesson 4: A shiny paperweight is still a paperweight.

Last week I was at a security forum and one of the participants said
“My security team wants an iPhone that acts like a BlackBerry.” He was
sharing a view that was broadly held in 2010 and is still the core
position of many security professionals: A locked-down, highly
restricted iPhone (or Android device) is the right solution for the
enterprise, and compromising user experience for the sake of data
security is acceptable. This methodology inevitably fails. As Vivek
Kundra, the first CIO of the United States, said when he visited our
MobileIron office in February 2011, “The more the CIO says ‘no,’ the
less secure the organization becomes.” A primary focus on risk
mitigation leads to the wrong mobile strategy. User experience is the
litmus test for mobile adoption in the enterprise.

Successful mobile enterprise initiatives, even in the most regulated
industries, design the user experience first and then figure out
innovative ways to secure data without compromising that experience.

Lesson 5: Migration is the new norm.

Five years ago, BlackBerry was the undisputed leader in enterprise
mobility. Now, the original BlackBerry operating system — along with the
other enterprise mobile operating systems of the day (Palm, Symbian,
Windows Mobile) — has reached end-of-life. The entire landscape has
shifted in a very short time it will continue to shift.

We are all consumers and we are all trained to want the next shiny
object. Mobile devices are becoming disposable because innovation cycles
are rapid and new device models are launched every 6 to 12 months.
Also, the choice of mobile device is very personal and viewed as a
reflection of the personality of the individual.

As a result, it is highly susceptible to advertising, branding, and
peer choice, which can all change rapidly. The cynical way to express
this is that enterprise technology is now driven by fashion. The more
actionable view is that individuals have become more technically savvy
and want to pick the tools of their choice even if that means those
tools change frequently.

We are in the midst of a perfect storm of change in enterprise
mobility. BlackBerry is the latest example and brings a wealth of
lessons. Not every CIO or company will survive this storm, but all have
the opportunity to build disruption into a sustaining model for how to
thrive in a world of constant change.

Ojas Rege is Vice President of Strategy for MobileIron. He is
responsible for aligning product development and corporate strategy. He
writes the story for Reuters.com.


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