BlackBerry Dropped by Booz Allen, Latest Example of RIM's Struggle

Government adviser Booz Allen Hamilton is decommissioning its BlackBerry server and devices, suggesting that even regulated industries are no longer a sure bet for RIM.

BlackBerry maker Research In Motion is having a bad week—a week that epitomizes its struggle to hold on to users amid the growing popularity of Apple's iPhone and Android-running devices.

On Oct. 15, The New York Times ran an article airing the grievances of some BlackBerry users who wish they were iPhone or Android users. ("I want to take a bat to it," said one.) On Friday, Oct. 19, BloombergBusinessweek reported that RIM had been dropped as the smartphone supplier to Booz Allen Hamilton—a company whose 25,000 employees provide consulting services to government agencies, including the U.S. Army, Navy and Department of Homeland Security.

Consumers have for some time been eschewing BlackBerry handsets for thinner devices with larger displays, or tied to larger app stores, as have some business users. But even as RIM's grasp on the enterprise niche has been loosened, regulated industries such as government and health care have been sure things for the company, making the Booz Allen loss a notable one.

"Booz Allen has started decommissioning the firm's dedicated BlackBerry server that runs those devices and plans to move those staff on to iPhones made by Apple and handsets that run [Google's] Android software in the coming months," reported BloombergBusinessweek, citing Booz Allen spokesperson James Fisher.

Fisher added that BlackBerry devices owned by staff members won't be able to access the corporate email system once the switch is complete.

Like Booz Allen, the U.S. government has been a longtime RIM customer because of the world-class security features of the BlackBerry platform. But even those are being threatened as other platforms beef up their security.

The Times article noted that, while President Obama is still a BlackBerry user, he now prefers to receive his security briefings on an Apple iPad.

RIM, understanding that it can no longer keep rival devices out of enterprises, now offers BlackBerry Mobile Fusion, a mobile-device-management (MDM) solution for IT groups that extends BlackBerry-style support to iPhones and Android devices, alongside BlackBerry handsets.

On Oct. 18, Sprint added Mobile Fusion to its suite of MDM solutions for businesses, making it the first carrier to offer it as a carrier-billed application.

"BlackBerry Mobile Fusion delivers enterprise-grade MDM for all devices within an organization, supports the unique BlackBerry Balance technology in BlackBerry smartphones and PlayBook tablets that keeps business information and applications highly secure and separate from personal information, is backed by global support services, and gives IT departments a simple and straightforward upgrade path to BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10," Richard Piasentin, RIM's vice president and managing director, said in an Oct. 19 statement.

The delay of BlackBerry 10, which on June 28 was pushed a second time, to "early 2013," is exacerbating the retreat of BlackBerry users and even a retreat from the platform. In July, The Times said it would stop supporting its BlackBerry app for its DealBook section, saying that it was concentrating its efforts on The Times' mobile site.

RIM executives have promised that BlackBerry 10 will be well worth the wait, and not keep current users on board and happy but attract users away from other platforms.

RIM CEO Thorsten Heins, days after announcing BlackBerry 10's delay, defended the brand during a radio interview, after the host described RIM as being in a "death spiral."

"We will face our challenges in the U.S. in the next six months, I understand that," Heins said. "But I am positive that when we launch BlackBerry 10, there will be huge support from our carrier partners, from our enterprise customers and that we will reemerge ... as a very strong player—not just in the smartphone market but also emerging into the mobile computing market."

Paul Lucier, vice president of Government Solutions at RIM, responded to the Bloomberg report by saying that RIM believes "a 100 percent BlackBerry environment remains the leading solution for organizations whose primary concerns are security, efficient IT management and scalability."

In a statement to eWEEK, Lucier added, "Our solution is trusted by some of the most security-conscious global organizations and over 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies. We have 1 million government customers in North America alone who depend on BlackBerry, [and] more than 400,000 government customers worldwide upgraded their devices in the past year."

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