BlackBerry CEO John Chen took the long-anticipated step of announcing the next phase in its transition to a software company on Nov. 13 with a new partnership with former rival Samsung. The big news is that Samsung’s Knox enterprise security system will be integrated with the release of BlackBerry Enterprise Server 12 (BES12), due out in January.
Samsung’s Knox was probably the best known and most prominent competitor to BlackBerry. Samsung is one of the companies that relegated BlackBerry to the position of an also-ran in the mobile phone sales race. Samsung is currently the leading producer of mobile devices since it long ago overtook Apple in the number of devices sold.
Samsung has gone from mobile hardware rival to software partner now that the two companies have agreed to integrate Samsung Knox into BlackBerry Enterprise Server 12 and into the company’s Enterprise Mobile Management (EMM) system.
While earlier versions of BES would work with Android and iOS devices, the new partnership with Samsung takes the integration a step farther. Moreover, it acknowledges Samsung’s position in the enterprise. In addition, the integration between Knox and BES brings BlackBerry the ability to completely separate the work and personal sides of a mobile device.
Previously, such separation was only possible with BlackBerry Balance, which ran only on BlackBerry 10 devices. The new WorkLife product accomplishes the same capability with Android, but it also allows a mobile device to have two phone numbers, one for work and one for personal use by implementing a virtual SIM (subscriber identity module).
Ultimately, however, it is the extension of BES 12 into integration with Samsung Android devices that could have the biggest corporate impact and also the biggest effect on BlackBerry’s long-term outlook. This integration partnership opens a vast new market for BlackBerry that simply wasn’t there before, while providing an opportunity for Samsung to promote the adoption of its Android devices in enterprises.
By taking this step, BlackBerry also cements itself more firmly into its new role as a provider of enterprise security software for a wide variety of devices. With BES 12, secure EMM now goes beyond BlackBerry and Android devices to everything from medical equipment and connected cars. Few people realize that BlackBerry has for years been a dominant provider of software embedded in computers for these applications, but without the EMM component.
In fact, BlackBerry’s QNX software exists in everything from automotive fuel injection systems to aircraft flight control computers and medical equipment, including heart monitors. Now with BES 12, those devices can be part of a secure mobile management network, something that simply wasn’t easily available before.
BlackBerry Must Make More Deals Like Samsung Security Partnership
While BES 12 will now be well-integrated into Samsung’s Android devices, it will also still support Apple’s iOS devices and now it will support Windows Phone 8 devices as well. The level of integration isn’t as great with Apple and Microsoft devices, but BES 12 still provides secure networking and enterprise management.
The expansion of its secure mobile platforms to additional mobile platforms does not mean that BlackBerry has abandoned the device business that made the company famous, it does mark the company’s transition into much more of a software and services platform.
The device business will continue, however. The company launched the BlackBerry Passport with stronger-than-expected sales in September, and the company’s new BlackBerry Classic smartphone, which merges the familiar BlackBerry Bold design with the BlackBerry 10 operating system, will be launched on Dec. 17.
For the long run, however, BlackBerry needs to leverage its strong position in the mobile security market with BES 12. The only way the company can do this is by building partnerships with leaders in the devices business and riding on their success as a way to continue the company’s recovery from the days when it was losing billions of dollars per quarter trying to maintain its position as one of the world’s top smartphone makers.
By partnering with Samsung, which has shown significant success with its smartphones in the enterprise, BlackBerry now has a road map to the future. But that road map needs a few more pathways to lead the company out of the wilderness.
As important as the partnership with Samsung may be, BlackBerry also needs to forge similar relationships with major Android device manufacturers and perhaps build a solid partnership with Apple.
Creating a partnership with Apple may not be as far-fetched as it may seem at first glance. Apple’s new approach to the enterprise, as indicated with its support contract with IBM, still needs a secure communications backbone and management platform.
Although BES already performs some of that, for serious enterprise use, a deeper level of integration is critical. While Apple could possibly go its own way in offering a secure network and management system, the better path for enterprise users is to work with a system they already know.
For the same reasons that Samsung picked BlackBerry as its partner for the final part of its enterprise solution, such a partnership would also work with Apple. The advantage for Apple is that it would build on a platform that already exists and which is already widely accepted by the biggest players in that part of the business.
If that approach seems familiar, it should. This is exactly how Apple approached the payment industry with Apple Pay, which is already showing signs of being a solid success.