In the Wheelhouse: Do You Have a BlackBerry Contingency Plan?

Analysis of News Events
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Although BlackBerry has come back to life more times than Friday the 13th has released sequels, with the potential of company breakup and bankruptcy, plus a quickly diminishing market share, we need to look at the options.


In the last few weeks, we've seen much in the news about BlackBerry. First, they announced they lost just under $1 billion in the 2nd quarter, mostly due to the write down of the Z10 smartphone inventory they just couldn't get off the shelves.


Next, the company announced a layoff of 4,500 jobs from its 12,500 global workforce as part of a restructuring effort, along with cutting the number of phones it sells from six to four handsets. Those phones will be, and I know we've heard this before, targeted at the enterprise customer.


Just a few days after that announcement was the disclosure that Fairfax Financial Holdings was in negotiations to buy the company for a reported $4.7 billion. Just last week, BlackBerry Ltd. co-founder Mike Lazaridis commissioned Goldman Sachs to help him explore making his own bid to take the company private.


In late September, research firm Gartner released a report that essentially told BlackBerry customers of the world to prepare to put their life jackets on, find the nearest exit, and calmly step out of the plane and into the nearest ocean before the airplane sinks into the watery abyss:


Gartner recommends that our [BlackBerry enterprise] clients take no more than six months to consider and implement alternatives to BlackBerry. We're emphasizing that all clients should immediately ensure they have backup mobile data management plans and are at least testing alternative devices to BlackBerry.


Gartner suggests customers do one of the following:


  • Move off BlackBerry devices completely
  • Place BlackBerry on a "contain" status where users are told that BlackBerry will be discontinued except when approved by management, possibly leaving a "controlled'' community of BlackBerry devices
  • Upgrade a limited set of users, such as executives who want a BlackBerry physical keyboard or users in high security jobs, to BB 10 devices, while supporting other platforms such as Android or iOS


BlackBerry fired back at Gartner with a public appeal to customers that seemed to generate less media coverage than Sinead O'Connor's public note to Miley Cyrus:


We recognize and respect external parties' opinions on BlackBerry's recent news. However, many of the conclusions by Gartner about the potential impact of a sale or other strategic alternatives are purely speculative.


BlackBerry is restructuring and pursuing strategic alternatives to increase its focus on its core enterprise business. We remain steadfast in our mission to deliver the most secure and powerful mobile management solutions and smartphones to our customers.


That commitment has been met with support from enterprises adopting BlackBerry and BES 10, which has more than 25,000 commercial and test servers installed to date, up from 19,000 in July.


BES 10 is also the only EMM [Enterprise Mobile Management] platform to be awarded 'Authority to Operate' on U.S. Department of Defense Networks. Everyone at BlackBerry is grateful for the ongoing support of our customers, and we are working harder than ever to keep it.


In the wake of all this hullabaloo, what should you do if you have a major investment in BlackBerry devices in your enterprise?


Well, I like Boeing's take on the situation. It's a very conservative move but a move nonetheless. Boeing, who supports about 41,000 BlackBerry devices, recently circulated a memo to employees stating that their current mobile standard is BlackBerry but they are making plans to diversify in case "a service interruption occurs."


Last week, BlackBerry executives assured Boeing representatives that the restructuring of their business plan will keep the focus on the enterprise and professional users, as well as what differentiates the firm from its competitors: a secure, private environment in which customers can conduct their business. In the unlikely event a service interruption occurs, equivalent alternatives are available. Although Boeing representatives do not feel it will become necessary, certification of alternate hardware and software options (e.g., Android platform) is being accelerated. Early estimations predict that re-provisioning every BlackBerry user to a new device could take approximately two months. At this time, BlackBerry continues to be supported and remains the Boeing standard mobile platform.


A "service interruption" could mean everything from a systemwide temporary outage to BlackBerry datacenters going dark, with the former being far more likely as it happened last about two years ago. I remember being in Boston on business for two days with no service on my BlackBerry other than BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) while others on their iPhones and Android-based devices were operating business as usual. For me, that was the kick in the pants to start diversifying.


We need to consider ensuring we have alternative means of mobile communication.


If you're using BlackBerry Enterprise Server only for BlackBerry devices, then you need to at least investigate other options. Diversifying mobile devices can result in a minor increase of complexity but reduces the risk of an outage for your entire mobile workforce.


BlackBerry Enterprise Server 10 gives the ability to run Android and Apple iOS devices while IBM Notes Traveler has added BlackBerry as an option to their existing lineup of supported devices. I'm partial to Traveler because of the ability to run it on IBM i and Power Systems.


What's my company doing? We run a traditional Express version of BlackBerry Enterprise Server for our older (i.e., pre-BB10) BlackBerry phones. When those phones are up for contract renewal (or they succumb to a physical...ahem...mishap), then we run replacement devices (iPhone, BB10, and Android) on IBM Notes Traveler. On our Traveler server, only 20% of devices are the result of employees opting to remain on BlackBerry instead of going the iPhone/Android route.


Having a standard mobile platform used to be a really good thing. But perhaps the definition of a standard mobile platform was tied directly to a select device or very few devices for many reasons, from ease of support and user familiarity to pricing. More recently, I think the mobile standard is tied to service-level expectations and flexibility for users rather than a device or platform. Maybe it's now more of a standard mobile service or portfolio rather than platform.


Of course, many users still love their BlackBerrys, and they won't hear talk of using anything else. But people change. Just last week I spoke with a senior executive at another company who mentioned he was looking at an upgrade for his now long-in-the-tooth BlackBerry Curve. I asked him what he wanted to get.


"I really don't care. As long as I have my email, chat, contacts, calendar, and phone. They all do that." His tech guys told him to head into the local mobility dealer and find a phone that felt right. That's the right attitude when you can support just about anything.


Whatever happens with BlackBerry happens. But with the future of the company up in the air, we need to prepare accordingly.