COLUMN-What we learned from the BlackBerry era


By Ojas Rege

Nov 12 (Reuters) - BlackBerry changed the world. It madewireless email a killer app that every salesperson and travelingexecutive absolutely needed to have to get their work done. Itgave us devices with batteries that lasted a full week,connectivity that made email feel real-time even over very slownetworks, and a user experience that everyone LOVED. And, for ITdepartments, BlackBerry established a standard of security thatprotected even the most sensitive information with comprehensivepolicy support from a central management console.Great email and great security were the hallmarks of theBlackBerry solution and no one else in the first decade of thismillennium even came close to matching them. The term"Crackberry" became so popular to describe the addictive natureof the service that it was selected as the 2006 Word-of-the-Yearby Webster's New World College Dictionary.But the world changed.Today, there is no shortage of pundits dissecting BlackBerry'sdecline. My goal, however, is to step back and understand thebroader implications of the BlackBerry story. Every CIO faces atactical issue today of how and when to migrate from BlackBerry,but the strategy lessons and corresponding challenges are deeperand further reaching.Lesson 1: The enterprise smartphone is dead.Consumerization has won. If a smartphone (or tablet) is notsuccessful in the consumer market, it will also not besuccessful in the enterprise market. If your mobile devicevendor isn't doing well with consumers, then that vendor willnot be financially viable in the long term, because theeconomics of mobile device production and distribution are basedon scale. Also, every smartphone in the workplace is a mixed-usedevice, regardless of who owns it or what IT policy has beenset. Employees don't want multiple phones, so they will usetheirs for both personal and business use. That means thesmartphone needs to provide a consumer-grade experience, and any"enterprise" device that does not do so will not be used forwork either.Lesson 2: The NOC does not rock.From 2000 to 2010, the network operations center (NOC) model ofwireless email was the enterprise standard. BlackBerry, thencalled Research in Motion, ran a NOC through which all corporateemail traffic flowed. When external wireless networks werehighly unreliable, the NOC delivery mechanism and proprietaryBlackBerry protocol were necessary to provide push email, securetransmission, and measurable service quality. However, the NOCalso created a single point of failure outside the control ofthe enterprise. As wireless networks improved and Microsoft'sActiveSync became the standard protocol for push email, thevalue of the NOC diminished. Because of the current financialturmoil around the company, the BlackBerry NOC has arguably nowbecome a liability for high security organizations because it isnot clear what vendor or country will eventually control thiscritical component and the data that flows through it. Forbeseven argued recently that the foreign bidding for BlackBerry mayhave the hidden motive of reducing customer confidence in thecompany.Lesson 3: Email is not enough.Every user loved BlackBerry email. The end-to-end BlackBerrysolution, from display to keyboard to physical navigation tobattery life to network connectivity, was designed to provide anoptimized email experience that used minimal resources. That'sbecause the earliest BlackBerry devices had to live with smallmonochrome displays, slow paging networks, 4MB flash memory, andone AA battery. Making business email work so well with solittle was a phenomenal feat. Today, email is still the killerapp for mobile business, but it is not enough. Users also want agreat browsing experience, lots of apps, a sophisticated screen,and intuitive touch navigation. As a result, an email experienceoptimized for battery life and efficient communication willalways get trumped by a data experience optimized for breadth,richness, and beauty. The broader implication is that employeesunderstand the power of apps and, as John McCarthy and MichelePelino of Forrester Research wrote back in 2011, "Corporate appstores become the intranet of the future."Lesson 4: A shiny paperweight is still a paperweight.Last week I was at a security forum and one of the participantssaid "My security team wants an iPhone that acts like aBlackBerry." He was sharing a view that was broadly held in 2010and is still the core position of many security professionals: Alocked-down, highly restricted iPhone (or Android device) is theright solution for the enterprise, and compromising userexperience for the sake of data security is acceptable. Thismethodology inevitably fails. As Vivek Kundra, the first CIO ofthe United States, said when he visited our MobileIron office inFebruary 2011, "The more the CIO says 'no,' the less secure theorganization becomes." A primary focus on risk mitigation leadsto the wrong mobile strategy. User experience is the litmus testfor mobile adoption in the enterprise. Successful mobileenterprise initiatives, even in the most regulated industries,design the user experience first and then figure out innovativeways to secure data without compromising that experience. Thereverse approach - designing the user experience to fit thesecurity model - will not meet the needs of either the businessor the employee.Lesson 5: Migration is the new norm.Five years ago, BlackBerry was the undisputed leader inenterprise mobility. Now, the original BlackBerry operatingsystem - along with the other enterprise mobile operatingsystems of the day (Palm, Symbian, Windows Mobile) - has reachedend-of-life. The entire landscape has shifted in a very shorttime  and the key lesson is that it will continue to shift.When consumers call the shots, technologies can come and gorapidly. We are all consumers and we are all trained to want thenext shiny object. Mobile devices are becoming disposablebecause innovation cycles are rapid and new device models arelaunched every 6 to 12 months. Also, the choice of mobile deviceis very personal and viewed as a reflection of the personalityof the individual. As a result, it is highly susceptible toadvertising, branding, and peer choice, which can all changerapidly. The cynical way to express this is that enterprisetechnology is now driven by fashion. The more actionable view isthat individuals have become more technically savvy and want topick the tools of their choice even if that means those toolschange frequently.The American statistician, W. Edwards Deming, said "It is notnecessary to change. Survival is not mandatory." We are in themidst of a perfect storm of change in enterprise mobility.BlackBerry is the latest example and brings a wealth of lessons.Not every CIO or company will survive this storm, but all havethe opportunity to build disruption into a sustaining model forhow to thrive in a world of constant change.

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