Q&A: All about BlackBerry Mobile Fusion

BlackBerry Mobile Fusion website homepage

For those who haven't seen the announcement, can you recap what BlackBerry Mobile Fusion is and why IT departments should be getting excited?

We're announcing BlackBerry Mobile Fusion. It's a next-generation enterprise mobility solution. It's really our entry into the multi-platform mobile device management (MDM) marketplace.

For many years we've provided MDM for BlackBerry smartphones. Over the last few years, we've seen a significant increase in customer demand to

extend the management capabilities that they've already got with their

BlackBerry platform into other areas.

With this introduction we're also providing device management for the PlayBook and enabling customers to manage iOS-based and Android-based

smartphones and tablets from a single user interface. If a business user has a mixture of devices, such as a personal BlackBerry smartphone and a corporate-issued PlayBook, with perhaps another device maybe largely corporate or personally liable, it will enable their IT department to manage those devices all from a single console.

We've seen a significant increase in customer demand to extend the management capabilities that they've already got with their BlackBerry platform into other areas.

The customer demand has been coming from the enterprise because of the rise of consumerisation and a real willingness to allow personally liable or bring your own devices and policies into the workplace.

We do have a lot of customers out there who are extremely security

conscious, particularly in the public sector and financial services, so we don't expect all customers will want to put this type of technology in, but certainly many of them have been asking for this kind of service for some time.

We acquired a company called Ubitexx at the end of May and we've been working on [making use of] its technology since then to get it to market. BlackBerry Mobile Fusion includes not only existing BlackBerry management for smartphones but also the new mobile device management for PlayBooks, Android and iOS devices.

We've had [interest] from our partners and both enterprise and SME-focused operators across, as well as systems integrators - they also want to provide MDM as a service to their clients as the number of devices increases in the workplace and as many of them will be personally liable rather than corporate issued.

When will it be available to businesses?

We've been running betas with customer across the European region, North America and Asia Pacific for some time now. Closed beta opens in January and customers can register their interest for that. We expect full availability at the end of March.

Will you be taking that time and feedback to iron out any issues and bugs?

Yes. We're getting some really strong feedback from our beta customers. They tend to be some of our really large customers with large device estates. Also, it's a really evolving marketplace. We've been in the MDM space for many years but this is really our first step into multi-platform MDM. We see that as a real growth market. There are a lot of companies entering that space. It's a really nascent market.

So it's a growth opportunity as well as a platform development opportunity more widely.

How can customers register interest in the beta programme?

They can register for news updates on the BlackBerry Mobile Fusion website, contact their BlackBerry account manager or their mobile operator...

The first step is to register interest. We've got large number of beta customers already so the closed beta will be available from January and the general availability will be March.

We've not put a cap on beta numbers at the moment but we've had a lot of interest in the first beta. We've tended to work with our largest customers for the first set of betas as we want really big device

estates but don't have a cap on it.

We have the ability to scale those betas up really fast. We're well versed in large beta programmes as it's super important for us to get that customer feedback before we fully launch.

You said this product was borne out of customer demand, was that in mind when you acquired Ubitexx?

The Ubitexx acquisition was really in response to customer demand. [It's also based on] what we've heard in last few years as our consumer retail business has grown enormously.

If you take the UK, we have more than eight million users in the UK market and many of those are consumers. Those consumer users are bringing their BlackBerry smartphones into previously quite locked-down enterprise environments and requesting that the IT department connect their mail and applications. Last year, when we launched BlackBerry Enterprise Service Express (BESX) and new capabilities like BB Balance, that was in response to personal liable bring your own BlackBerry devices coming into the workplace so this is just an [extension] og that.

It's also worth pointing out that across our whole portfolio now we have introduced quite a few MDM capabilities. Earlier in the year we launched BlackBerry Protect, which gives remote lock and wipe

and location discovery for lost or mislaid phones over the air (OTA) for an individual consumer user. That's a cloud-based service. We also introduced the BlackBerry Management Centre, which allows small and medium business, up to 100 users, to do many of the same things. Again as a cloud-based service. We've now got MDM for our own products all the way from an individual user right up to the largest enterprise. We wanted to extend that at the top end to allow larger businesses to support other platforms.

We've got a big installed base of customers who are using our MDM

capabilities already so our first initiative is to help them deal with bring your own device (BYOD) and personally liable devices. Then we'll look at how we roll out BB Mobile Fusion to others. So, initially, it's [just aimed at] large corporates and public sector organisations.

What are the headline features? As an IT manager why should I choose BlackBerry Mobile Fusion rather than A N Other MDM solution?

The reason you'd come to us first of all is you prob already have BlackBerry device management in your corporate infrastructure, so being able to upgrade that to simply add BlackBerry PlayBook device management, iOS and Android smartphone and tablet device management means not having to invest in a new device management platform. That's really what customers have been telling us. That they already manage their BlackBerry smartphones, and they'd like to be able to manage other devices, and multiple devices per user through a single user interface and single experience rather than having to have several different pieces of software or services.

Some 90 per cent of the Fortune 500 already have us in their IT infrastructures so it's a natural extension for them as they start introduce a multi-platform or BYOD policy.

Does it just slot on to what they have already then?

Absolutely. It is a new user experience... Our current user experience for device management is web-based anyway. This just adds an extra layer. It will be familiar but will allow the IT department to get asset management, configuration, security, lock and wipe, administer users at either an indiviual or group level but also deal with environments where you have multiple devices per user.

It's BlackBerry, Playbook, iPad and Android management capabilities.

What about usability? Can users expect the same experience?

Yes. We put a lot of effort into making the user experience was smooth and graphically rich. The IT department wants something quick and simple to use that is easy on the eye as well.

The real difference thing here is if you're looking at a user, you'll be able to see all of their devices in one management console. It will show you the status of all those devices even though there will be a different set of policies and management capabilities potentially for each device.

With BlackBerry devices we have security and management built in from the hardware right through the infrastructure to our device management software. We're now providing device management for third party devices, so the APIs may not be available for all of them. We have BlackBerry Balance for example and that level of functionality is not yet currently available for iOS and Android. It may well be in the future.

Our committment is that we will allow our customers to manage those third-party devices to the greatest extent that we can and secure them to the greatest extent we can.

Which is a bigger draw for businesses - security or managability?

Security and the ability to apply security polices remotely and

OTA is probably one of the most important things for many of our customers.

But [from a priority standpoint] security and management are on a par as it really differs from customer to customer. The public sector, particularly defence and local government and financial services, need to be secure and this is possibly higher up the IT director or CIO's list of concerns. In other sectors, pure manageability aspects might rank more highly. It really depends on the individual customer and

security sensitivity of that industry.

Some may think it's a bit of a risky move, supporting competing devices. Is this brave on RIM's part or something you have to do to respond to customer demand?

It's about responding to customer demand. We've benefited enormously from consumerisation as business. The large number of BlackBerry smartphones going into consumer channels are coming back into the enterprise and users with their individual handsets are asking to have corporate applications and mail on those devices.

We're fully supportive of cosumerisation and of helping our customers and making it as easy as possible for them to secure and manage devices on whatever platform. We see it as an opportunity.

The MDM market is a real growth area. Wee have this heritage in device

management of BlackBerry smartphones and a large customer base so extending that to other operating systems is really a natural step for us.

Is it the case BYOD and consumerisation is invetiable so you might as well make it safe and secure?

That's spot on.

Can we expect further moves, like the acquisition, in response to different business needs?

Yes. Certainly when it comes to device management and security. This year has been one of our biggest years for introducting device management capabilities all the way from BlackBerry protect to the BlackBerry Management Centre fo SMEs. We recently anouncned BB Cloud Services for Microsoft Office 365 and cloud-based device management for

Microsoft customers.

Whether it's the individual user all the way up to the largest corporate business or public sector organisation, we want to respond to their requirements for managing and securing, locking and wiping and scaling up those devices. The simple demand of employees and end users to have more mobility in their working lives and have more

control, is encouraging organisations across the board to open up their doors to consumerisation.

Do you have any details about pricing?

BlackBerry Mobile Fusion is going to be price competitive. We're already price competitive in pure device management terms for BlackBerrys so now we will be [here].

We're not releasing detailed pricing info yet, it will be released in the new year but, absolutely, our intention is to be as price competitive [as we can] for device management of other operating systems.

One thing we hear from customers a lot is there is a significant value associated with having a single platform for device management. It's only when you have that single platform you can compare the cost of ownership, the TCO the reliability and the impact on the business of the different smartphones and tablet platforms and operating systems you're using.

From a customer point of view, they want to be able to look across their whole estate at old versions of device X to new devices and

tablets and different form factors of the future and be able to

say this is the reliabilty of this device in this particular user environment, this is the cost, the data efficiency, the security and be able to compare those.

We see a lot of demand for that comparative cost not just in terms of the device themselves and the data they use but also the cost of managing and securing them. That's another driver behind us launching BlackBerry Mobile Fusion.

Our general message to customers is consumerisation is something we encourage them to embrace but we also recognise that they may be in a very security conscious industry or mindset so the ability to control policies is absolutely essential. We give them that ability to take a different approach.

Someone in a less security conscious role in the same organisation may want to use BESX and allow them to bring their own BlackBerry smartphone in and have a different level of access and control over apps and emails. And have a diff set of policies to someone in the same organisation who has a BlackBerry and iOS or Android-based device. It's that ability to take the policies and apply them by either user or group across multiple devices per user. Customers want flexibility.

Maggie Holland

Maggie has been a journalist since 1999, starting her career as an editorial assistant on then-weekly magazine Computing, before working her way up to senior reporter level. In 2006, just weeks before ITPro was launched, Maggie joined Dennis Publishing as a reporter. Having worked her way up to editor of ITPro, she was appointed group editor of CloudPro and ITPro in April 2012. She became the editorial director and took responsibility for ChannelPro, in 2016.

Her areas of particular interest, aside from cloud, include management and C-level issues, the business value of technology, green and environmental issues and careers to name but a few.