BlackBerry Z10: Striking the right balance for business

BlackBerry 10

The BlackBerry Z10 is widely considered to be a make-or-break device for the smartphone maker formerly known as RIM, after watching its stronghold on the enterprise weaken in recent years.

The reasons for this have been well-documented, and were also the subject of an extensive feature by IT Pro around the time of the Z10's release back in January.

According to various industry watchers, the firm hasn't been innovative enough and as a result found itself touting business-focused devices at a time when its rivals, Apple and Samsung, have been reaping the benefits of the consumerisation of IT trend.

At the BlackBerry Experience Forum (BEF) in London earlier this week, the company shed some light on how the Z10 has fared in the business market so far.

The company claims UK sales of the Z10 were higher than any other smartphone it has previously launched, and that over half of Phones 4U stores in the UK sold out of stock within three days of it going on sale.

There has been a noticeable shift in the way industry analysts are talking about BlackBerry 10.

Business benefitsBEF is the first of many events the firm is holding across Europe over the next couple of weeks, as it strives to impose on users the business benefits of its BlackBerry 10 devices, operating system and enterprise server.

During the opening keynote, Rob Orr, managing director of BlackBerry in the UK and Ireland, said the enterprise market was part of the firm's "past, present and future", before going on to talk up the enduring popularity of its products with the business community.

"In the UK, we're the mobile solution of choice for 95 of the FTSE 100 companies, all major government departments and over half of all police forces," he said.

"There has been a noticeable shift in the way industry analysts are talking about BlackBerry 10. This positive reaction extends to our business customers as well.

"Today over 100 of our UK customers...are using BB10. BT, Aviva, the Co-Operative group [and] Centrica, to name but a few," he added.

However, during a briefing with the press, Jeff Holleran, senior director of enterprise product management at BlackBerry, admitted the firm's devices have fallen out of favour as users have come to expect more from their mobile phones.

"In years past, the word BlackBerry became synonymous with this dumb email terminal, whereas we had devices [from other manufacturers] in the company that ran Twitter and Facebook and had great camera applications, for example," he said.

This was a theme touched on again during one of the security-focused breakout sessions at BEF by Danny Sanok, manager of enterprise product management at BlackBerry.

During the session he said BlackBerry devices used to have a reputation among business users for being highly secure but tightly "locked down". And this has allowed its rivals to encroach on its turf in the enterprise.

"One of the things we noticed in the past with BlackBerry devices was, no matter...if you have a user who got one for Christmas or bought it themselves from a retail store, when they brought it into work...[IT departments] still lock them down and put IT policies on them," he said.

"Sometimes what we hear from end users is, I like BlackBerry, but I want an iPhone because I don't want the corporate guys to lock it down for me."

One of the reasons why BlackBerry devices have proven so popular in the enterprise, particularly with firms in the legal and financial services markets, is because of their security features, but as the firm's execs have hinted it's also proven to be a sticking point with users.

This is an issue the company hopes to address with the Z10's new BYOD-friendly BlackBerry Balance feature, which allows corporate and personal data to be partitioned on the same device.

"We hope by opening this up, it'll give users more of a buy BlackBerry devices," Sanok added.

The right balanceAny data stored or used by apps in the corporate workspace of the Z10 is encrypted, and prevented from leaking into the personal section of the device.

This means, when someone leaves the company and takes the device with them, the IT department can remotely wipe the corporate data off the Z10 without harming any of the owner's personal content.

Samsung recently announced plans to bring a similar system called Knox to selected Android handsets later this year.

Like Balance, Knox separates business and personal information on the device and looks set to offer users access to enterprise-focused tools, such as email, file-sharing and calendars.

Speaking to IT Pro at BEF, Michael Brown, vice president of security product management and research at BlackBerry, said the firm isn't fazed at the prospect of its rivals bringing Balance-like tools to market.

"We have an acute focus on secure design [at BlackBerry] and that means building security into how we create products from the very beginning...if you try to do it as an add-on later, it doesn't work because security is often about the details...[and] ensuring you've done everything right at every stage of the design, implementation and testing," he said.

Caroline Donnelly is the news and analysis editor of IT Pro and its sister site Cloud Pro, and covers general news, as well as the storage, security, public sector, cloud and Microsoft beats. Caroline has been a member of the IT Pro/Cloud Pro team since March 2012, and has previously worked as a reporter at several B2B publications, including UK channel magazine CRN, and as features writer for local weekly newspaper, The Slough and Windsor Observer. She studied Medical Biochemistry at the University of Leicester and completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Magazine Journalism at PMA Training in 2006.