RIM Shows Off BlackBerry Enterprise Server 5.0

NEW YORK — There really is such a thing as a mobile office. At least, that's the contention put forth by Alan Panezic, vice president of software product management for Research in Motion (RIM), at a BlackBerry press event held here this morning.

"A couple [of] years ago, it seemed magical and impossible," Panezic said, adding that myriad productivity enhancements available on the BlackBerry handheld have moved the magical into the mundane. One contributing factor, Panezic said, is the participation of more than a thousand individual software vendors that have brought BlackBerry-compatible solutions to market. Enterprise adoption continues to grow, he said, noting that several RIM customers are on the verge of crossing the 100,000-BlackBerry threshold.

Panezic then introduced what he called "the highest-quality release of an enterprise sever we've ever had" -- BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) 5.0. The new server is also the easiest to upgrade, according to RIM, and will be generally available in the second quarter of this year.

Panezic highlighted the key points of BES 5.0, centering around easy administrative control and security:

  • Administrative enhancements: The BlackBerry Administration Service has a new interface, enabling technology workers to troubleshoot the system remotely, managing software, controls, roles, and permissions via wireless access. The devices only need to be plugged in when being charged. Technology staffers can now schedule administrative tasks during weekday hours -- no longer does the engineering team have to come in on weekends to make systemwide changes.
  • Ease of upgrades: Panezic told attendees that software upgrades have historically represented a mobile user's number-one cost burden. BES 5.0's ability to allow over-the-air/in-the-field updates for BlackBerry smartphones will attempt to reduce that burden. Administrators will now be able to download an upgrade within the BES management interface, deploying the new software wirelessly to the intended recipient. Once again, no device needs to be connected to the workstation.
  • Serious security: With the amount of data that is often stored on a single BlackBerry, enterprise-level control is critical for security purposes, Panezic said. With that in mind, BES 5.0 security measures were tested by government agencies throughout the world. As with earlier BES iterations, the 5.0 edition resides behind the enterprise firewall to perform secure synchronization of data. "Users will be users -- and the solution is built to recover from [users] being users," said Mike Brown, director of RIM's security product management. Brown provided the example of a salesperson leaving his BlackBerry device in a taxi cab when traveling on business: Thanks to the server's secure data sync, he said, nothing is lost or at risk -- except, of course, the phone itself.
  • Apps, apps, apps: Mobile users, of course, access applications differently than desktop users do. When sitting at a computer, a user is likely to have multiple applications open and running, and she may switch between programs for an extended period of time. Work done on a mobile device, by comparison, tends to involve a much more task-oriented approach. The user is typically focused on one application to accomplish one specific task -- responding to an email or notification, or maybe entering a note into a CRM record. For that reason, it's important for developers and users alike to see the benefits and differentiators of a mobile solution. Mike Kirkup, a manager of developer relations for RIM, walked the crowd through several applications that specifically utilize the BlackBerry platform and its capabilities. He highlighted both IBM's Cognos Go Mobile for its business intelligence solution and Salesforce.com for its integration with the smartphone's address book and its Global Positioning System compatibility.
  • User-friendly functions: RIM executives emphasized the idea that BES 5.0 was developed with the end user in mind, citing detailed enhancements that had been requested by the user community. Some of the upgrades include the ability to add, rename, and delete folders on the handset and have those changes be applied to the desktop email client. Additionally, users can now add red flags to email messages denoting the need to follow up, and can view attachments in calendar entries and meeting requests.

Perhaps most of all, Panezic tried to dispel any notion that BlackBerry might be little more than a pretty handheld.

"BlackBerry actually is an end-to-end solution," he told attendees, alluding to the handheld's growing ecosystem. "It's a platform and architecture for enabling the enterprise. Anyone who builds on top of it immediately gets the benefits of the solution."

In other, unrelated RIM / BlackBerry news today, parent company Research In Motion reportedly announced that cryptography specialist Certicom had agreed to a significantly increased buyout offer of $106.5 million. The figure represents a doubling of RIM's initial offer of $53 million made in December 2008. According to published reports, Certicom technology is already embedded throughout RIM's security operations involving the BlackBerry.

In a separate statement, RIM raised its projections for quarterly growth in the number of BlackBerry subscribers, stating that "net subscriber account additions for Q4 [are] over 20% higher than the 2.9 million net subscriber account additions" the company set forth in its third-quarter results in December. "RIM had record levels of net subscriber account additions throughout the month of December and continued to see strong levels following the holiday buying season," according to a company statement. Even so, the company warned analysts today that its quarterly earnings and gross margin would come in at the low end of expectations when it reports on April 2.

[Editor's Note: Be sure to check back on March 1, when the March 2009 edition of CRM magazine becomes available. Included in the issue's content is a feature-length look at smartphones and CRM.]

[Note: Earlier versions of this story inaccurately characterized the status of BlackBerry adoption among enterprises. The reference to individual enterprises utilizing 100,000-plus devices was a projection, not a statement of fact. The editors regret the error.]

News relevant to the customer relationship management industry is posted several times a day on destinationCRM.com, in addition to the news section Insight that appears every month in the pages of CRM magazine. You may leave a public comment regarding this article by clicking on "Comments" at the top; to contact the editors, please email editor@destinationCRM.com.

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