BlackBerry Acquires Crisis Communications Vendor AtHoc

The most recent of BlackBerry's software acquisitions again shows its continuing moves into mobile security software for the enterprise.

BlackBerry, AtHoc, smartphones, enterprise software, security software, mobile security

NEW YORK—BlackBerry is continuing its efforts to build out its security software portfolio and features for enterprise customers with its acquisition of AtHoc, which provides secure, networked crisis communications for a wide range of clients including governments, the military, enterprises and first responders.

The AtHoc deal was highlighted here at the second annual BlackBerry Security Summit, where BlackBerry officials laid out an overview of the company's broad enterprise security features and explained how it will continue to focus on this market. The AtHoc deal, for which a sales price and other terms have not been disclosed, was announced on July 22.

The AtHoc acquisition follows BlackBerry's purchase of secure enterprise file-sync-and-share vendor WatchDox in April; its purchase of Movirtu, a U.K. startup whose specialized software enables a smartphone to have more than one phone number in September 2014; and its July 2014 acquisition of Secusmart, a German software company that specializes in anti-eavesdropping and high-security voice and data products and services.

Using AtHoc, agencies and companies can access a secure, networked crisis communications system using any device—including iOS, Android, PC and Mac desktops, digital displays, radios, IP phones, and endpoints such as sirens, fire panels and speakers—during times of crisis, according to the company. AtHoc clients include the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard, as well as agencies and companies such as the American Red Cross, Baylor University and Raleigh Durham Airport. More than 3 million U.S. defenses and Homeland Security personnel are using the network today, according to the company.

Guy Miasnik, the president and CEO of AtHoc, said at the event that his company's acquisition by BlackBerry will help add features that AtHoc already planned to introduce, including the ability to host secure sharing of documents, procedures and checklists during emergencies, which will now be possible through BlackBerry's WatchDox technologies.

"These were actually things that were on our product roadmap," said Miasnik. "We had that on our plan for next year. The acquisition brings it all together sooner."

AtHoc is a secure crisis communications system that can send alerts to people, organizations, devices and more and connect them efficiently in an emergency. The transaction is expected to be completed in BlackBerry's fiscal third quarter.

John Chen, BlackBerry's executive chairman and CEO, in a statement called the AtHoc acquisition the company's latest that aims to make communications more secure for enterprises, governments and other users.

"BlackBerry is making strategic investments in security, privacy and the Internet of Things, and acquiring AtHoc will enable us to provide a holistic, end-to-end approach to communications," said Chen. "We have a proud history of securing mission-critical communications for the public sector as well as enterprises operating in the most highly regulated industries. AtHoc's technology and expertise will play a key role as BlackBerry works to connect and secure a broad range of endpoints."

Marty Beard, BlackBerry's chief operating officer, said that the latest acquisition is another move that the company wants to use to keep fighting for a larger chunk of the enterprise security marketplace and for the still-developing Internet of things.

"The size of the opportunity for BlackBerry [in the security space] is why we are so excited," said Beard. "We have a belief that every enterprise is going to have to have a platform that is going to secure this explosion of devices" in the ongoing Internet of things. "We're entering a world where having to manage the perimeter is becoming increasingly important. That is a driving strategic view that [Chen] has for us as a company and that we are driving toward."

Beard said BlackBerry believes that the need for enterprise security systems will continue to increase and that his company is "uniquely positioned" to fill those needs. "This is really what drives us," he said. "It's not so much the growth rate that we are focused on but the volume … of connectivity between machines is going to exponentially explode. There's going to be more and more and more of that as we go forward."

BlackBerry's fall from dominating the enterprise smartphone market has been swift and stunning.

In early 2006, before the first iPhones appeared from Apple, half of all smartphones sold were BlackBerry models. By 2009, though, its share of the global smartphone market was down to 20 percent. The company continues to face growing competition from Apple, Samsung, Google and others.

In the first quarter of 2015, BlackBerry's worldwide market share fell to 0.3 percent, compared with 78 percent for Android and 18.3 percent for iOS, according to a recent report from IDC. Windows Phone has a 2.7 percent market share.