RIM has made a lot of headlines lately. Most of them have involved an ongoing exodus of executives leaving the company for greener pastures and/or reports of massive layoffs as the company tried to restructure itself under the leadership of new CEO Thorsten Heins.
There’s one bright spot of publicity for RIM this week, however. J. Crew CEO and Apple board member Millard Drexler uses a BlackBerry Bold 9900 – a fact noted after a CNBC piece about operations at J. Crew.
Is this good news for RIM? Yes and no. It shows that not every major company has abandoned the BlackBerry and not every executive has demanded an iPhone (at least not yet). Of course, if Drexler wasn’t a member of Apple’s board of directors, it’s likely that no one would really care what type of smartphone he used.
RIM is continually trying to make the case that the BlackBerry is still the most secure mobile platform for business, government, and defense. Despite several U.S. government agencies announcing plans to mothball BlackBerry devices in favor of iPhones and iPads (the most recent and possibly most extensive being TSA), RIM does have a bit of a point.
RIM’s enterprise infrastructure and the company’s BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) do afford a more stringent set of device management and security policies than any other platform. A BlackBerry can be locked down a bit tighter than an iPhone (which in turn can be locked down more than the average Android handset or Windows Phone device). That enterprise control is what built RIM’s empire and no company has fully duplicated it. As a result, there are companies that have stuck with the BlackBerry.
Another common factor that leads companies to stick with RIM is that they already have a significant investment in the BES environment, which can only manage BlackBerries – not iPhones, not Android phones, and not even RIM’s PlayBook tablets. Adopting another mobile management solution will involve some costs and it will almost certainly include some culture shock for IT staffers long accustomed to the strict management mind-set that RIM and BES represent.
Ultimately, however, the mobile management and security aces up RIM’s sleeves aren’t going to be worth much. The big realization brought about by iOS and Android as platforms and by BYOD programs is that companies are better off securing company data when it’s accessed on mobile devices than trying to lock down individual devices – a process that often cripples many of the advantages that today’s mobile landscape provides like user app and workflow choices.
The enterprise and business mobile technology markets have shifted by moving to a more user-centric model. That is forcing IT leaders to rethink the assumptions that were made five or ten years ago when RIM ruled those markets. IT professionals are now beginning to focus more on data and application security than on locking down device features and functionality. In the end, that means that RIM’s biggest asset is slowly becoming less and less relevant in many workplaces.
That said, there are still organizations holding onto the older ways of looking at technology and mobility. For the time being at least, that means RIM will probably hold onto some customers – and that apparently includes J. Crew.
Image: Gillian Laub/Corbis