BlackBerry at a Crossroads but Determined to Forge Ahead

NEWS ANALYSIS: With a torrent of new products and services, BlackBerry is asking enterprises to again give the company a chance to prove itself.


BlackBerry apparently isn't planning to go away without a fight.

The Canadian enterprise communications company was founded in 1984 under its former Research In Motion (RIM) persona, and the BlackBerry name and product line was first introduced in 1999. Now called BlackBerry, the company has changed quite a bit since its boom days of the early 2000s, when it led the secure enterprise communications category by far over its competitors.

That was before the launch of the iPhone and many other quality handsets that began adding popular features that attracted users and turned BlackBerry's world—and business earnings—upside down, starting in 2007. When built-in cameras, Web access and other smartphone innovations began sprouting, BlackBerry saw them as "fads."

Wow, could the company have been more wrong?

Now, seven years later (has it really only been seven years since BlackBerry ruled the enterprise when it came to communications?) BlackBerry is again on the move with new products, new energy and new hopes for the future.

On Nov. 13, the company and its leader, CEO John Chen, unveiled 10 announcements about new products, new services, new ideas and even some new smartphones, which all could potentially begin to define what would happen with this company in the next few years.

There's a new BES 12 Enterprise Mobile Management (EMM) platform with expanded capabilities for large business users, a new Android security partnership with Samsung, new identity management systems that can help enterprises better protect their cloud users and more, including a new BlackBerry Meetings (BBM) mobile app that will let mobile users collaborate with users on other operating systems.

As I followed all of those news announcements during BlackBerry's live Webcast on Nov. 13, I began to wonder if, in fact, BlackBerry would be able to make it all work and if the company has a chance of turning things around in a meaningful way.

BlackBerry's fall from dominating the enterprise smartphone market has been swift and stunning, certainly. BlackBerry spent much of 2012 and 2013 trying to shake off the image that it was finished, especially compared with its presence five years earlier when its devices were the "enterprise gold standard" for mobile business communications, according to earlier eWEEK reports. In early 2006, half of all smartphones sold were BlackBerry models. By 2009, though, its share of the global smartphone market was down to 20 percent.

So what's next?

My feeling is that the company still has a long road ahead of it, but in its favor, it still has a strong and established enterprise reputation for quality, security and excellence. It's not like BlackBerry had bad products that turned them down into the rabbit hole they are trying to escape today.

Instead, what the company had for a long time was bad leadership that didn't see the future coming at a million miles an hour. Now, in John Chen, they have a leader who appears to get it, and he might have the right personality to make the future more successful.

In addition, people in the IT community appear to like Chen and seem to want to believe in him. And that's a start.

We shall see, but I would not be surprised if BlackBerry and Chen are able to pull off true, measurable and business-sustaining successes once again. They may not ever be the BlackBerry of eight to 10 years ago, but maybe they don't have to be the same BlackBerry as before. It may be only a hunch, but I don't think that this company or its leader will go away quietly into the night any time soon.

Business history is filled with stories of companies that were successful and then stayed with their core technologies too long and withered. Think about Eastman Kodak, Polaroid and Smith-Corona. But others, including Ford and General Motors (maybe that's not a great example due to all of their recent safety recalls, but please bear with me), are continuing to come back following bankruptcies and poor business decisions and are actually recapturing consumer interest and growing sales.

Will BlackBerry be the next Polaroid or the next re-established Ford?

We'll all have to stay tuned in to find out.