Will future generations think of BlackBerry as a fallen giant mired in its own bureaucracy and unable to survive the tidal wave of advanced, computer-like smartphones, or will they think of it as a quintessential turnaround story of an enterprise that lost its path, but recaptured its glory by refocusing on its core strength?
On the basis of the relations that my company, GSX Solutions, and I have had with the BlackBerry team in the last six months, I am betting on the latter scenario.
BlackBerry’s story is one of an innovative company that created the market for the ubiquitous smartphone, delivering a product tailored for professionals who, like me (and do not fool yourself, you, too), could not live without it once we became used to getting our emails one second after they had been sent, whether we were in our office, on a train or on the beach, or pretending to relax during a vacation.
Android created an open platform that enabled low-cost manufacturers to flood the market with a high-quality offering, but it was Apple which created a device that combined the Walkman, compass, camcorder, PlayStation and insert-any-gadget-you-want, and coupled it with a phone. Go to Tokyo’s Akihabara. The once-mighty electronics area of Japan that used to sell tons of gadgets of all sizes and shapes has been replaced with superstores selling only Apple and Samsung products. Gone (or at least minimized) are the Sony devices we used to marvel at; they have all been replaced by innovative software available on smartphones.
But all of these devices are pitched at a consumer market.
One of the reasons BlackBerry missed the boat on tactile user interfaces (a.k.a. touchscreens) is because it already had a fabulous keyboard that met the needs of those who require correct spelling in their emails—not “CU 2mrw” but “I confirm our meeting for tomorrow. Best regards, Antoine Leboyer.”
Today’s BlackBerry recognizes that the professional market is where it has to focus. The recently announced Passport is aimed at precisely this market, and not at our kids. My teenage kids may think of Blackberry as an “old farts’ phone,” however, these “old farts” are still the productive professionals actually generating their kids’ allowance (who then spend more time on their “play phones”).
More importantly, BlackBerry has a trump card in its communication server. This offering, known to many IT professionals as “BES,” is the software that allows your emails and attachments to go from one server to another anywhere in the world securely and quickly. This is a huge business for BlackBerry and a key strategic platform for any corporate enterprise. My understanding is that BES represents around two-fifths of BlackBerry’s revenue. It is regularly growing, holds the largest market share, and currently trumps any competitor.
Now, with the advent of BYOD, there is a screaming need for a mobile communication server platform that encompasses all devices. In the last six months, we have worked with the BES development team in Waterloo, Canada, to extend our GSX offerings to BES 12.
BES 12 extends the capabilities of BES 5 to Android and iOS devices. It offers MDM capabilities, regardless of the device. It offers the strength, security and resiliency that IT professionals are used to, and which they profoundly value, with BES 5 on all of their company devices.
We have tested and worked on BES 12’s betas and, let me tell you, they are good. We have worked with the new teams at Waterloo and I’m happy to report that this is no longer your grandfather’s BlackBerry.
The new spirit at BlackBerry is like one you’d find at a Silicon Valley company. The staff react quickly and actually listens to feedback from the betas’ customers, like the best companies in Silicon Valley. Let me give you an example. BlackBerry asked beta testers like GSX to install a new build without any help from Blackberry in order to get objective feedback on the difficulty of this task. This is smart; this is real enterprise customer focus. Let me blow our own horn here: we have done the same thing at GSX and, based on customer feedback, we have created a module that checks and validates all prerequisites for fluid installation.
Furthermore, BlackBerry understand the needs of corporations. It is bringing complementary offerings to large companies that it has carefully selected so as to offer a full, comprehensive package. BES 12 comes with solutions from independent software providers that will make it an enterprise-ready platform in all capabilities. And, GSX is part of it.
Please understand me. We at GSX have the choice of putting our development resources on many platforms, but in this case, we decided to work on BES 12 because we like the “new” BlackBerry. GSX did not ask to get on the BES 12 bandwagon. We were asked by BlackBerry to help, we looked to see if it made sense, and then we made the decision to move ahead.
So, after six months of hard work, let me tell you that we at GSX believe in BlackBerry’s approach. We believe in its ability to execute. We believe in its strategy. And, we cannot wait when all of the products will ship, bringing to you the best combination of mobile enterprise email solutions on the best mobile server platform.
About Antoine Leboyer, president and CEO, GSX
Antoine has seen information technology from all sides by working for vendors of all sizes. After 12 years in sales and marketing positions at IBM, he started the European Indirect operations of Candle Corporation, worked for startups in software distribution and mobile phone billing software, and was senior vice president of Baracoda, the leading producer of Bluetooth industrial devices. Antoine holds an engineering degree from the Ecole Superieure d'Electricité in France and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School. He is co-author of the book, "Building Routes to Customers: Proven Strategies for Profitable Growth." In his spare time, Antoine is a frequent contributor to www.concertonet.com.