Once synonymous with enterprise mobility, the company has seen its market share erode as consumerization and BYOD trends have propelled Android and iOS to the front of the pack. RIM consequently has a lot riding on the new releases, including, as CEO Thorsten Heins implied recently, its future in hardware.
BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 preserves much of the management control offered in RIM's now-retired Mobile Fusion platform, last updated in September. It also adds new capabilities for BlackBerry 10 and, with support for iOS and Android, refines its tools for wrangling the multi-OS environments many businesses and institutions have come to embrace. The product provides a single, Web-based console that offers IT administrators the expected spectrum of management tools, including remote wipe and lock capabilities, the ability to push over-the-air updates to the workforce, granular user identity controls and an employee self-service portal for easier provisioning.
[ Stock market is enthusiastic about RIM's new wares. See RIM Gains Momentum Ahead Of BlackBerry 10 Launch. ]
BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 also integrates two flashier features: BlackBerry World for Work, RIM's new corporate app storefront, and BlackBerry Balance, which allows IT to control the corporate data on a device without interfering with the user's personal content. Both features are desirable, particularly the latter, which many security professionals consider an ideal approach for handling enterprise data on employee-owned devices.
The new capabilities will only function on BlackBerry 10 devices, though, making it unclear if the product will help RIM expand, or merely maintain, its current reach. At a high level, many of the controls offered in BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 are considered standard features. BlackBerry maintains a substantial roster of clients in highly regulated industries, many of which will likely see the new software as a welcome improvement. The question facing RIM is whether companies that are invested in multiple OSes, or that have already deployed competing management products, will feel persuaded to switch.
In an interview, Jeff Holleran, RIM's senior director of enterprise product management, said that BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 should appeal to enterprises of all kinds, regardless of their respective device policies. "The number one thing we hear from enterprises is they want a product that provides a single point of management across all mobile devices, and they want it from a trusted vendor," he said, adding that his company's mature customer support resources help it to stand out from the pack.
He noted that 1,600 enterprise and government customers have already signed up for a BlackBerry 10 readiness program, and that BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 received the highest test scores RIM has ever seen during a beta period. "There's lots of excitement from customers," Holleran said, noting that ease of use, software quality and BlackBerry Balance were among the factors driving the superlative beta response.
Still, if BlackBerry 10 -- and by extension, BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 -- is to make gains, it will need to generate excitement not only from corporate buyers but also from average employees. It's almost a given that RIM, given its pedigree, will offer tools that cater to IT administrators and provide security. But thanks to BYOD, IT preferences don't necessarily rule the day. BlackBerry 10 has enjoyed some favorable buzz, but, as InformationWeek detailed earlier this month, many companies have dropped RIM products from their mobility programs, analysts don't see the company returning to prominence, and developers are unenthusiastic about developing for the new platform.
Citing a desire not to "pre-announce" features ahead of the new OS's January 30 launch, Holleran declined to comment specifically about how BlackBerry 10 will gain the loyalty of end users that currently use other, more consumer-oriented devices. He said the new hardware will be compelling, though, and that it will offer an "empowering" experience to administrators and average employees alike.