Research in Motion's BlackBerry may soon lose its lock on the enterprise market, as companies look to add support for more consumer friendly smartphones--like Android and iPhone devices--and the BlackBerry's vaunted security features become less unique.
RIM has built its business on providing mobile e-mail and messaging services to corporate users. Thousands of companies use BlackBerry exclusively for mobile communications. And the company dominates the market with well over 60 percent market share. Much of the corporate loyalty stems from the company's reputation for strong device management and security. But a major shift is underway as IT departments are no longer dictating which mobile devices workers can and cannot use. Instead, employees are bringing their own smartphones and tablets into the office and finding ways to work them into their professional lives.
"The choice of which mobile device to support in a company is no longer happening in the CIO's office," said John Herrema, senior vice president of corporate strategy at Good Technology, a company that offers enterprise class device management and mobile security solutions. "It's happening at a retail store one consumer at a time. It's a big shift, and companies have to adapt."
While RIM is still considered the gold-standard when it comes to security, CIOs say they can no longer ignore the needs and demands of their workers, who want to use their personal cell phones for work.
"We've always been a BlackBerry house," said Rusty Yeager, deputy chief information officer of HealthSouth, one of the largest health care providers in the U.S. "But we recently started to dip our toe into supporting other platforms. Our employees and some of our doctors are really pushing us to support iPhones, iPads, and Android devices."
John Dick, CIO of Western Union, another BlackBerry-only firm, said his company is already testing applications developed for the iPhone, and it will eventually support Android devices, too. The company is still evaluating the costs involved with supporting an additional mobile platform or two. But Dick said Western Union will get there.
Indeed, the proliferation of smartphones in the market, and the success of the Google Android devices and the iPhone among consumers, is driving demand in the enterprise. And it's not just iPhones and Android phones that people want to bring into work, the Apple iPad, which sold 3 million units in its first 80 days on the market, has also become popular among workers.
"There's no question that tablets are hot right now," Good's Herrema said. "So any company that is considering adding more device support is looking at that category and thinking about how it can best address the needs of its users."
This is likely why RIM announced its own tablet, the PlayBook, months before it will even be available. Even though many of the details of the device were missing at the launch and reviewers have yet to get their hands on it for a full review, RIM may have announced something just to prevent its corporate customers from allocating money in 2011 budgets toward buying iPads and Android tablets.
No longer a lock on the market
Until recently, many corporate IT departments resisted supporting any devices other than those running on RIM's BlackBerry Enterprise Server. The reason was that the original iPhone and Android software lacked adequate security features for business users. But over the past two years that has changed.
With Apple's OS 3.1 and Google's Android 2.2, the software platforms now each offer enough security features built-in to satisfy most enterprise requirements. And this is coupled with support from companies like Good Technology, which offers message encryption and server architecture similar to what RIM offers. The main difference is that the Good technology allows companies to support multiple mobile platforms, including iPhone and Android, along with traditional Windows Mobile, Symbian, and Palm Treo devices.
The combination in enhancements has been enough to satisfy some analysts. Forrester Research recently issued a report concluding that the iPhone and iPad are "secure enough," with the right policies and technical controls. Just like RIM, Apple now supports e-mail message encryption, device wipes, passcode locks, autolock, automatic autowipes, protected configuration profiles, and continuous refresh.
Google Android phones using version 2.2 of the software also now meet most enterprise security criteria. And device makers, such as Motorola, are also trying to enhance the hardware to provide even better security and remote management. At last week's CTIA trade show in San Francisco, Motorola introduced the Droid Pro, a BlackBerry-looking device with a touch screen and full QWERTY keypad that offered security features inherent in Android 2.2 as well as additional features added by Motorola.
Meanwhile, Android usage among business users has steadily climbed since November 2009. Nearly a year ago, only about 3 percent of companies said they supported Google's mobile operating system. In August 2010, that percentage jumped to 16 percent of surveyed companies saying they support Android.
The iPhone has also become popular among business users, and Apple now accounts for about 30 percent of the enterprise smartphone market share. And as the iPad grows in popularity that figure is likely to climb.
Most experts agree that RIM is not likely to disappear from the corporate landscape anytime soon. There are still many corporate consumers who like the look and feel of the BlackBerry. What's more, the company is trying to develop devices that will appeal to consumers, such as the new touchscreen BlackBerry Torch.
So it's likely that RIM will remain a major player for some time. But it will have a lot more competition. Herrema said that market opportunity for Android and Apple in the enterprise is not in getting existing, company-issued BlackBerry users to migrate to a different smartphone. Instead, he said, the biggest opportunity is in enabling the other 70 percent of workers who haven't been issued a BlackBerry access to corporate e-mail and other company resources on the go.
A recent survey from Morgan Stanley suggests that 14 percent of CIOs said their companies are already doing away with company-issued phones and plans and are moving toward allowing employees to use their own phones and service. Another 32 percent said they were currently considering moving in this direction or toward a hybrid approach where the company pays for some cell phone bills and not others.
"RIM may see its overall marketshare decline," Herrema said. "But the entire pie for smartphones is growing, which means it may actually be able to grow sales. The exciting trend right now is not fighting over the 30 percent of a company that has company-issued phones and service, but to address the rest of the employees who already are buying a smartphone and want to use it for work."