If you rely on Research in Motion's BlackBerry smartphones, it's time to prep your exit strategy. RIM is in serious decline, and the slide has accelerated dramatically in recent weeks. The company has made massive layoffs, its stock price has plummeted -- a sign of investors losing faith -- and most analysts doubt very much its repeatedly promised BlackBerry 10 OS will be the Hail Mary that outclasses Apple's iOS or Google's Android.
The likelihood of RIM going bankrupt or becoming a skeleton of itself jumped significantly late last week when RIM revealed that BlackBerry 10 has been delayed yet again, now to early 2013, a year later than originally predicted. By then, iOS 6 and Android 4.1 "Jelly Bean" will be well established, and Microsoft's Windows Phone 8 will have debuted, offering for the first time enterprise security and management features that may finally near what iOS and Android offer. It seems unlikely users will desire the BlackBerry 10 in those circumstances.
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"RIM's potential financial troubles, weakened reputation, and so much effort into a tablet the BlackBerry PlayBook that has not caught on are all good reasons to look at other options," says John Pitts, president of managed services provider Tekcetera.
So what steps should companies take to prepare for the demise of RIM, if it happens in the next year or so?
1. Make the mental switch from mobile messaging to mobile apps Many organizations have already opened up to iOS and, to a lesser extent, Android. For example, at furniture retailer Holly Hunt, a BlackBerry is considered the bare minimum for mobile users because it's designed for email and messaging, not so much for running apps and accessing the Web as iOS and Android devices can do very effectively. At Holly Hunt, the BlackBerry is no longer the preferred device, despite its long history with the company, notes says Neil Goodrich, director of business analytics and technology.
Schumacher Group, a provider of emergency room management services, is taking an even stronger line: It will move from BlackBerrys to iPhones once iOS 6 comes out this fall, says CIO Doug Menefee.
The move from BlackBerry represents a shift in enterprise mobile computing from predominantly email to enterprise business applications, says Vishal Jain, a mobile services analyst at 451 Research. For example, "mobile computing is getting closer to opening up ERP systems, which were traditionally accessed through desktops," Jain says. The BlackBerry simply isn't designed for app usage; by clinging to it, companies are held back from heading in the direction of computing.
2. Develop and enforce a mobile policy When research firm Aberdeen Group surveyed 239 U.S. companies about their mobile device strategies this spring, researchers were particularly disturbed that 43 percent of the respondents permitted their employees to use mobile devices that don't comply with the company's mobile policy.
Additionally, many companies don't have mobile policies that reflect the app-centric and Web-centric reality of iOS and Android. With the increased adoption of bring-your-own-device and choose-your-own-device approaches, it's now paramount to have those policies in place. That way, users know what they're permitted to do and how they're expected to safeguard company information, says Andrew Borg, an Aberdeen research director for mobile.
It's baffling that companies would create a mobile device policy and not enforce it, but it's clearly a common occurrence. That has to change, Borg says.
3. Use the many tools available for securing iOS and Android For several years, the mantra among many in IT is that only the BlackBerry could provide sufficient security and management capability needed for sensitive information, especially in heavily regulated information-centric industries such as law, financial services, health care, and aerospace/defense.
In fall 2008, the Secret Service told then President-elect Barack Obama that he could not use his BlackBerry for presidential work. After his inauguration, they relented for personal usage with the addition of specialty encryption. Today, he is frequently seen with his iPad.
In other words, the world has changed. "When the iPhone and Android came to market, they were not as robust with security, but since then Apple, Google, and third-party partners have filled many of the gaps around security and manageability that had made RIM a differentiator. Today, there are really no industries or job functions that would have no place to go other than BlackBerry," Borg says.
If the default security in iOS or Android isn't up to your needs, plenty of third-party mobile management tools are available to secure them at the level that companies require, Borg notes. "The leaders in this sector offer comprehensive security [capabilities] that in many cases meet or even exceed what RIM was doing with BES," Borg says.
The big area that such tools for iOS and Android beat RIM center around is the very area with the most potential for employees and employers alike: applications.
IT fears over iOS and Android not being as control-oriented as BlackBerry can also be addressed. For example, although iOS is an opt-in operating system, where users have to agree to be managed, all the leading management tools simply block access from devices that don't accept the policies. They also detect and block jailbroken devices, so you can prevent users from running apps that come from outside Apple's heavily policed app store. Access to iCloud can be disabled as well, though it can cause unanticipated problems if done too cavalierly.
Android support takes more effort. The multiple versions of Android in use vary significantly in their security support, with only Android 3.0 "Honeycomb" and later comparing to the native iOS capabilities. "You need a greater level of effort and expertise to make Android enterprise-ready," Borg notes.
But all of Motorola Mobility's Android devices released since summer 2011, as well as some earlier models, provide iOS-level security capabilities out of the box. Its Droid 4 smartphone even has a physical keyboard, for those BlackBerry users who hate the notion on touch-based text entry. So do Samsung devices labeled SAFE (Samsung Approved for Enterprise), including the Galaxy Nexus, Galaxy S III, and Galaxy Tab 2.
The good news: You're covered if BlackBerry goes away Given that RIM pioneered the notion of mobile devices and embodied mobile messaging for a decade, it would be sad if RIM fails to adapt to the modern world or does so too late to regain the huge numbers of lost customers.
But it would not make companies have to choose between mobility and security. They can have both today with iOS and Android, and likely this fall with Windows Phone 8. Plus, they get all the advantages of apps and Internet that the BlackBerry wasn't designed for.
Whatever happens to the BlackBerry, now's the time to plan your transition, even if just as a contingency. RIM's fortunes have become too uncertain too quickly to not do otherwise.
InfoWorld Executive Editor Galen Gruman contributed to this report.
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