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What we learned from the BlackBerry era

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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. The term "Crackberry" became so popular to describe the addictive nature of the service that it was selected as the 2006 Word-of-the-Year by Webster's New World College Dictionary.

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. Forbes even argued recently that the foreign bidding for BlackBerry may have the hidden motive of reducing customer confidence in the company.

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 beauty. The broader implication is that employees understand the power of apps and, as John McCarthy and Michele Pelino of Forrester Research wrote back in 2011, "Corporate app stores become the intranet of the future."

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. The reverse approach - designing the user experience to fit the security model - will not meet the needs of either the business or the employee.

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 and the key lesson is that it will continue to shift. When consumers call the shots, technologies can come and go rapidly. 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.

The American statistician, W Edwards Deming, said "It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory." 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.

© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2013.

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

9 Comments
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"My security team wants an iPhone that acts like a BlackBerry."

In other words, we know that the Blackberry is technically superior, but we want an iPhone because,,,,er, it's an iPhone. No wonder the NSA and hackers can spy on organizations: security is not really a priority for them. It's all about image, baby!

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Blackberry and everything that followed allowed work to follow me home, on holiday or to my sick bed. These days come Friday the phone goes off until I arrive back at work on The Monday. People get by without communicating with me for 2 days. And graveyards are full of indispensable people.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

@SimondB On the other hand, they allowed me to work in the comfort of my home office, avoiding Tokyo's horrid time-wasting rush hour, and giving me more time for such things as playing tennis on Wednesdays, not to mention less stress (ie, office politics).

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Curious statements. According to the author Blackberry only does email and has no other features. As I read this article on my Blackberry and now adding a comment with my Blackberry, which I will probably post a link on my Facebook, also from my blackberry as I gtalk my buddy about this article also from my Blackberry. The only time email came in was my twice daily email from JapanToday, which I problem clicked on the link to this article from.

All of that with the previous version of the Blackberry OS, not the new one.

My wife and kids have switched between iphones, then android, now on iphone again and are complaining and want to go back to android again. Other than a few exceptionally pointless games my blackberry not only has all of the apps they have but oh yeah my blackberry works in LA where I live, all across america and canada, Hong Kong, Tokyo, London, Mexico even a cruise ship. Androids and iPhones in the family, well that is a bit touch and go and rare is the time an app kills my blackberry.

RIM itself failed not with a product but by not moving ahead with the consumer market. There was a point blackberries were the largest consumer market as well, with zero advertising or intention of actually going into that market. RIM should have been less arrogant and simply started marketing and building to the consumer market share they already had before iPhone even came out. It took iPhone a couple of years to eat away that unsolicited consumer market. Had RIM backed off the stance of enterprise only back then and moved right into the consumer market when consumers were using blackberry, it would be a totally different story today.

Its too late now. Blackberry could get back into the consumer market. All they have to do is drop the arrogance and migrate to Android and put their flavor and reliability on the android platform, fully open so people can get whatever apps they want with blackberry selling apps that might be more reliable than the typical android app. iPhone is going to kill itself. At some point people will again get tired of the proprietary nonsense of the iPhone and iPads, only what they allow, only what they sell or license, no way to expand the device memory or even fix the battery, that will get old and means Android is the competitor to join up with.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I loved my Blackberry when I was in the UK, I only wish they were available in Japan. The iPhone is useless in comparison, and unreliable. A two-hour battery life is no good to me.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

yeah, I read JapanToday on my BlackBerry Z10, while occasionally switching to another apps lie BBM, WhatsApp, FB and Twitter. emails comes in while I'm driving and sending em out is no hassle. I heard this ads over the radio last night about this girl who had a crush on one guy but just couldn't tell if he is interested. A friend told her to download BBM for android and would instantly tells her if the guy already read he message. Because BBM would tell you if he did.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

BlackBerry is a young Start-up. The BlackBerry HMIphone is based on the fantastic QNX R.T.O.S. ... Call now BlackBerry 10 Most of us, already enjoy this wonder in our car. 140 car model, all around the world, sold at 65 millions units are equipped with BlackBerry QNX RTOS... It's support Androïd ... BlackBerry is using a runtime that verify and clean all the apps... It's very compelling... Ironman, Despicable, Angrybird are free... Runstatic, Doc to Go and many many more It's very professional too... It's very secure. It's NSAPROOF... Merkel throw away her NOKIA's spyphone...throw away Apple and Google BBM VIDEO is free... You can call freely all over the world... The 2013 world most innovative smartphone... Why? 1) Incredible BlackBerry Paratek 3D Smart Scanning Antennas. The unique ability to 'self-tune!' 2) Escalate the phone call to a BBM VIDEO call and up to a conference call... 3) You can choose the size of your screen with miracast, the HDMI port and his DLNA Technology . 4) BlackBerry® Natural Sound technology. 5) TimeShift is "Back from the futur" To get the smile from the one you love. 6) Hollywood in the palm of your hand... Stunning Storymaker... 7) Drag the focus box anywhere on the screen & Triggered and shoot at anytime.& Take a crisp and clear picture. 8) You can deal, with the Balance Mode, Two univers instead of single galaxy. 9) The most intuitive typing experience ever, All that, simultanuously, in three languages. 10) The most elegant and the most advance architecture. Very easy to developpe software and apps(OPEN SOURCE). It's a thrill to have in the palm of our hand the overwhelming power of the New fantastic BlackBerry Z30

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Had a Blackberry for a while - hated it. Good riddens.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

In other words, we know that the Blackberry is technically superior, but we want an iPhone because,,,,er, it's an iPhone.

No, they want the UX (user experience) of an iphone, with the security of a BlackBerry. Blackberries of the past few years don't even remotely compare to iphones when it comes to user experience - which is why Apple is one of the richest companies in the world, and Blackberry is hovering somewhere near death.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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