Research In Motion and Apple: two firms with more contrasting current fortunes you could not wish to imagine. The once high-flying Canadian BlackBerry-maker, for so long the darling of IT managers and beloved of time-starved execs the world over, has lost its way as rivals from the consumer space start to eat into its core enterprise business. Then there’s the phenomenon that is Apple, the Cupertino giant molded into the slick, stylish consumer success story it is today by the late Steve Jobs. You’re probably as likely in many organizations to see staff using an iPhone for work as a BlackBerry today, which makes two recent announcements from the tech giants all the more interesting for what they say about the firms’ respective strategies and what it all means for IT managers caught in the middle.
Let’s take Apple first. A company whose primary aim is to make beautiful products at high margins, it was 100 per cent focused on the consumer when its iOS-based iPhone burst onto the scene back in 2007. Since then, the Cupertino firm has released several more models, as well as market leading tablet the iPad and slowly appears to be rolling more enterprise-friendly features1 into the platform.
Take, for example, volume purchases for businesses via the App Store – recently added capabilities designed to streamline the large-scale buying of applications for corporate users. Or how about the iPhone in Business and the iPad in Business web sites? Both are designed to attract the business user and showcase features which could appeal to those looking for a new corporate device. The latest much-touted announcement was the launch of the iPad Configurator: a new Mac app which enables admins to configure up to 30 devices at a time according to corporate requirements – but not to manage them remotely.
Sounds great, but don’t let this slow creeping of iOS functionality into the enterprise fool you into thinking Apple has suddenly become a business-friendly company. Sure, it is providing more capabilities now in its devices to make them easier to use and manage in the corporate sphere, but it will always be a consumer-focused firm. It’s just that it has made its products so user-friendly that everyone who buys one now also wants to use it at work.
If you’re in any doubt as to Apple’s primary focus, consider the iPad Configurator. It enables management of only up to 30 devices – not practical for any but the smallest of organizations – and is primarily designed for the IT department which has purchased its devices and has yet to dole them out, rather than one faced with the problem of managing existing user-bought devices. Then let’s think about Apple the company. Does it have enterprise sales and support staff? An enterprise sales platform? Does it clearly communicate its product roadmap so large scale and long-term purchasing plans can be drawn up by its business customers? The answer to all of these questions is not really, although sources indicate that Apple may be acquiring some enterprise sales staff from a well-known corporate tech vendor.
Yet despite the lack of Apple’s business credentials2, IT managers must evolve to meet the increasingly demanding needs of their users and the changing requirements of the role. Put simply, this means that they can no longer procure from a single enterprise vendor – they need to open up to multiple providers and be ready to accept and manage consumer devices. The good news is that there are vendors who can help fill the growing security and management holes that have appeared in this new mobile computing environment. One of them, perhaps surprisingly, is that old friend of the IT department, Research In Motion.
Now RIM has seen its business stall thanks in a large part to the success of the iPhone as well as the obvious challenge from Android. Recent Forrester research in fact place the three as having a roughly equal share of the workplace market. Unfortunately, instead of sticking to what it does best – providing highly secure hardware and sophisticated management software – it tried to beat Google and Apple at their own game and entered the consumer space. The strategy hasn’t worked and the company lurches from one bad launch to another with profits and share price plummeting. However, it did something very smart in April – it launched an update to its BlackBerry Mobile Fusion server software which will allow admins to manage iOS and Android devices as well as BlackBerry.
Unlike Apple, which is resolutely homogenous – you won’t be able to use the iPad Configurator for any non-Apple device, for example – RIM has taken the bold step of admitting not everyone in the enterprise will use a BlackBerry. This is a genuine move in the right direction – not only is a focus on the software side of its business better for its margins but it also plays to the firm’s biggest strength, its market leading security and mobile device management capabilities.
It should also serve as a firm reminder to any IT managers still not sure how to respond to the disruptive force of consumerization3. 5If RIM can open itself up to interoperability with rival platforms, maybe they too should adopt a more open mindset when revising their corporate mobile device strategy.
The sands are rapidly shifting in enterprise IT but the quick witted IT professionals will understand that they are no longer a provider of technology for their company but a broker. It’s not for them to decide what mobile platforms to use but for their execs, line of business owners and end users to decide. IT’s new role is to engage as fully as possible with the requirements of the end users, find out where potential vulnerabilities4 lie and make it happen. Sadly for RIM, there’s no going back to the old days now, but nor should the future be feared.
If you have evidence that Apple is finally getting serious with the Enterprise, I’d love to hear from you.
If you have evidence that RIM is finally opening up to consumer technology, I’d love to hear from you.
Reference1 How Secure is Your Smartphone? Android, iOS, BlackBerry and Windows Phone Under Attack http://bringyourownit.com/2012/04/04/safe-smartphone-android-ios-blackberry-windows-phone-attack/
Reference2 Jailbreaking BYOD Control. Is Apple iOS ready for enterprise primetime? http://consumerization.trendmicro.com/consumerization-byod-jailbreak-apple-control-enterprise-primetime/
Reference3 Consumerization Talks with Ken Dulaney, VP Gartner Research. http://bringyourownit.com/2011/06/28/consumerization-talks-with-ken-dulaney-vp-gartner-research/
Reference4 BYOD Best Practices – Three pitfalls you can’t afford to ignore http://consumerization.trendmicro.com/byod-best-practices/