BlackBerry changed the world. It made wireless email a killer app that every salesperson and traveling executive absolutely needed to have to get their work done. It gave us devices with batteries that lasted a full week, connectivity that made email feel real-time even over very slow networks, and a user experience that everyone LOVED. And, for IT departments, BlackBerry established a standard of security that protected even the most sensitive information with comprehensive policy support from a central management console.
Great email and great security were the hallmarks of the BlackBerry solution and no one else in the first decade of this millennium even came close to matching them. The term “Crackberry” became so popular to describe the addictive nature of the service that it was selected as the 2006 Word-of-the-Year by Webster’s New World College Dictionary.
But the world changed.
Today, there is no shortage of pundits dissecting BlackBerry’s decline. My goal, however, is to step back and understand the broader implications of the BlackBerry story. Every CIO faces a tactical issue today of how and when to migrate from BlackBerry, but the strategy lessons and corresponding challenges are deeper and further reaching.
Lesson 1: The enterprise smartphone is dead.
Consumerization has won. If a smartphone (or tablet) is not successful in the consumer market, it will also not be successful in the enterprise market. If your mobile device vendor isn’t doing well with consumers, then that vendor will not be financially viable in the long term, because the economics of mobile device production and distribution are based on scale. Also, every smartphone in the workplace is a mixed-use device, regardless of who owns it or what IT policy has been set. Employees don’t want multiple phones, so they will use theirs for both personal and business use. That means the smartphone needs to provide a consumer-grade experience, and any “enterprise” device that does not do so will not be used for work either.
Lesson 2: The NOC does not rock.
From 2000 to 2010, the network operations center (NOC) model of wireless email was the enterprise standard. BlackBerry, then called Research in Motion, ran a NOC through which all corporate email traffic flowed. When external wireless networks were highly unreliable, the NOC delivery mechanism and proprietary BlackBerry protocol were necessary to provide push email, secure transmission, and measurable service quality. However, the NOC also created a single point of failure outside the control of the enterprise. As wireless networks improved and Microsoft’s ActiveSync became the standard protocol for push email, the value of the NOC diminished. Because of the current financial turmoil around the company, the BlackBerry NOC has arguably now become a liability for high security organizations because it is not clear what vendor or country will eventually control this critical component and the data that flows through it. Forbes even argued recently that the foreign bidding for BlackBerry may have the hidden motive of reducing customer confidence in the company.