Thursday, 21 February 2013

What Blackberry Has to Do to Win Back the Corporate Market

The situation has changed since my review of the Blackberry Z10. I have come to the unfortunate conclusion that Blackberry, the company and its products, is no longer a viable enterprise solution. Given that Blackberry is an Enterprise Solution Provider, that's not good.

The Blackbery 10 corporate experience is buggy and incomplete. On release day our company obtained two Z10s (one of which I reviewed) and I configured them through the Blackberry Enterprise Services 10 solution I deployed. Right away I ran into a bug. Blackberry Z10s would not synchronize with an unencrypted Exchange server. Wait a minute? Unencrypted communications? Are you crazy?

Slow down. Let me explain.

A Blackberry Enterprise Server (a BES) acts as a communication proxy between a Blackberry Handheld and the Exchange (or Lotus Notes brrr.....) e-mail messaging environment. The BES uses private encryption keys to encrypt and authenticate all traffic between the handheld and the BES. The unencrypted link is between the BES and the e-mail server on the private network behind the corporate firewall. To access that unencrypted traffic, a snooper needs direct (and possibly physical) access to the internal private network. That is a different security issue. As far as we're concerned, public communications are still encrypted. Here's a diagram showing what I mean:

(click to embiggen)

A Blackberry Z10 will not synchronize any data (at the time of this blog post) in that setup. The Exchange server needs to have a SSL cert installed and published. For us that meant creating another private key and somehow pushing out that private key to the Blackberry handhelds so that they would trust the encryption as valid and.. well.. that is a bigger pain in the ass then I was willing to go through. Ironically, BlackBerry Playbooks do not suffer from this issue. A Playbook registered through a BES10 server works just fine with an unencrypted mail server. Blackberry Z10s? Nope.

I wound up getting the test working using an encrypted front-end Exchange server link and I thought everything was going just fine. Except. Believe or don't, after the initial data synch, the Blackberry Z10s would no longer synchronize changes to calendar or contact items. E-mail only. At this point I threw up my hands and declared fuck it, we're not supporting Blackberry Z10 devices until Blackberry fixes all the bugs in the BES10 architecture. So, no Blackberry 10 adoption at our company. I have better things to do than to be a bleeding edge alpha release bug-finder for Blackberry. I don't get paid by Blackberry to do that.

And this is where RIM Blackberry fucked up in my studied and professional opinion. Blackberry threw away their stable BES5 architecture, and built a new one from the ground up and called it BES10. And just like any first release software, it is as buggy as a manure pile. Without the beneficial fertilizer aspects.

So assuming Blackberry quickly fixes all those bugs AND that other corporate customers haven't also given up in frustration, here's two things Blackberry needs to do to win back the corporate market.

1) Increase Exchange integration beyond what is offered through the ActiveSync process. ActiveSync offers only basic e-mail, calendar and contacts access. That's it, and it is also what is available to iPhone/Android and Windows Mobile devices. Microsoft Exchange server offers many other features that are not available through ActiveSync. Blackberry, you used to offer tighter Exchange integration, and you need to do so again. It is those additional features that make you a desirable business product. Not "The Hub" or "Blackberry World" (Or whatever the Blackberry app store is called now.)

2) Blackberry, why the hell didn't you ensure that applications for other key corporate applications were available at launch? I'm not talking about Twitter, Google Maps and Facebook. I'm talking about Citrix Receiver, RSA SecurID softoken, Microsoft Sharepoint Browser, JD Edwards/Oracle, etc. etc. etc. Mobile corporate access is more than just e-mail. It is access to the private infrastructure (the "cloud" to use a hated buzzword) that employees need to do their job. Through the BES you offer a secure VPN tunnel for mobile devices, but there are no applications that take advantage of that access. Right now the Z10 is only a portable web browser with a basic e-mail client. Why is it that I have better corporate access through my legacy Blackberry Bold than your latest flashy solution? Did you focus to much on the consumer market and forget about the corporate market that made you a success in the first place? I realize those options I mentioned require you to partner with third party companies. And it could be hard to convince them to get on board with Blackberry. But you needed to do that. You had to do that. You had no choice.

To say that Blackberry has not done either of these solutions is a "show-stopper" is vastly understating the situation. Citrix, with its XenMobile platform is offering many of those missing features to corporations that have adopted Apple and Android. It is a tragic turn of events that I can get better mobile corporate access using an iPhone and XenMobile than I can with a Z10 and BES10. So dearest Blackberry, Citrix (and other competitors) is eating your lunch. Pretty soon you're going to be dinner too, and there won't be a damned thing left of you that anyone wants. You won't even be worth acquiring because other solutions will be better than what you offer.

If I were a betting person, I'd bet that in the near future Blackberry is sold off for the worth of its patents and nothing more. Anyone want to take that bet? I want to be wrong, private market economics dictates we need viable competitive options. But the private market does not suffer fools and incompetents, and Blackberry is quickly proving to me that they are that type of company.

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