BlackBerry is still in the process of redefining itself.
Today’s version of the Waterloo, Ontario-based company is a different BlackBerry than it was a decade ago, taking a dramatically altered approach to the industry when compared to the glory days of its ‘Pearl’ and ‘Curve’ smartphones. BlackBerry’s new focus, as the company has stated repeatedly at press conferences and briefings, is the enterprise space.
The changes to BlackBerry operations initially began subtly, but over the past 12-months, the company has moved rapidly to set up strategic licensing partnerships in an effort to remove the constant worry of handset inventory from its books.
In today’s increasingly connected world, BlackBerry is now building upon its 33-year history to focus on protecting governments, healthcare, financial institutions, businesses and your daily drivers such as smartphones, tablets and cars, with its various security solutions.
Marty Beard, COO of BlackBerry, has been with the company since 2014 and has seen a significant shift in its operations.
In a recent interview with MobileSyrup, Beard opened up about the challenge the company is currently facing and how BlackBerry aims to use the brand you trust to protect your data in the future.
Question: Where is BlackBerry today?
Beard: We are almost 100 percent a software company now. We have dramatically moved the company from where we were from when John Chen first came in a few years ago, to where we are now. We’ve really moved towards being focused on selling our software and we’ve moved very dramatically towards selling towards enterprise and selling around this “Enterprise of Things” vision.
The reason is because we are seeing an increase in connectivity in the enterprise environment that is beyond smartphones, which needs to managed and secure. That is a very real trend. This is sometimes referred to as IoT, which I think is some people’s minds is a consumer-focused expression.
Q: What does BlackBerry Secure mean?
Beard: What we see our enterprise customers facing is that they want to get ahead of all this connectivity to make sure it’s secure, so it was a natural place for BlackBerry to go in and really focus and leverage our legacy, leverage our technology, and leverage our brands.
Over the past twenty-four months, we have made several acquisitions and much has been integrated, such as Good Technology and AtHoc. This holistic platform is what we referred to as “BlackBerry Secure.”
Q: How many people are on your enterprise sales force?
Beard: Several hundred. I’m probably guessing here at least doubled if not tripled within the past year. We started with a pretty small group because you know it was primarily people that were focused on carrier sales.
If you go back three years, we really did not have an enterprise sale force. It was primarily selling hardware devices to carriers. Today, we have several hundred people in the field selling our technology solution. What we’re doing is just going out and telling the message. It’s almost like a political campaign. So, it’s just that it’s a challenge of managing towards what were what were focused on, which is the Enterprise of Things.
“We want partners to say, ‘I’m BlackBerry Secure.'”
We think it’s a huge market and we have an incredible product stack to manage and secure that environment for companies. The BlackBerry brand is still largely associated with smartphones — which is a good problem and a challenge.
We’re starting the marketing of the brand and we have work to do. Enterprise of Things represents more than just our phones, so laptops, smartphones, wearables, sensors, basically anything that your company, hospital, government entity wants to manage and be secure.
Q: How is BlackBerry different than its competitors in the enterprise market?
Beard: We released recently our BBM enterprise SDK, similar to Twilio. We like this one a lot and it’s also indicative of our developer focus, so BlackBerry is going to get a lot more focused on building up our developer community around our software. You can’t win in the software enterprise space without having a big developer community around you. We will target application developers within ISP’s.
So you might be working at Concur or Salesforce.com, or think of an app on your phone, any enterprise-oriented app, and if that app needs communications capabilities or notifications, we want them to use our SDK to build an app. Then they push their apps out and every time that app is used we make money.
So that’s how Twilio brilliantly got so many developers around their stuff and went public and has done great. We are differentiated as we are security focused. It’s IP based, this is not SMS. Therefore, it’s immediately available anywhere. Whereas in SMS you have to provision short codes and carriers.
Q: Why BlackBerry?
Beard: Security. This is BlackBerry. It addresses the market of more and more connections and more and more endpoints within the enterprise. We actually think Enterprise of Things sits behind IoT and is everything that the companies need and we’re going to be the guys to secure, manage and connect that and we call it BlackBerry Secure — which is both secure in a name for the entire product as well as a state of being.
We want we want our customers to say, “I’m BlackBerry Secure.” We want partners to say ‘I’m BlackBerry Secure.’ We want devices to show they are BlackBerry Secure. Alarms and medical devices to say they are BlackBerry Secure. Similar to “Intel Inside.”
We would love that when you’re in the car and it’s got that shield BlackBerry Secure and that means something in your mind.
Q: What are your thoughts on the KeyOne?
Beard: KeyOne came out and I think it did pretty well in the launch. I’ve been doing this too long to declare victory. Hopefully, there will be a lot of sales. I think there was a lot of interest in it but it’s the same old questions, such as is there interest in a keyboard? Is there interest from enterprise oriented buyers that care about security?
It’s very encouraging so far and TCL has been fantastic to work with. Our economic relationship is when that phone sells we make money.
Q: How many new models are you coming out with this year?
Beard: I cannot talk about the specifics of the agreement or give you any of those details. We have three signed partners so more than one. TCL was a global agreement, minus Indonesia. So we signed an Indonesian agreement except for India. Then we signed an Indian agreement.
There is only one Earth so we have it covered. But this does not stop us from doing more licensing with smartphone manufacturers.
It also does not stop us from going into non-smartphone areas. Think of other types of hardware that might need security capabilities. We want to make sure that when someone is buying a BlackBerry branded device they really get a professional, highly secure feeling.
Q: Do you have any final thoughts?
Beard: It’s pretty amazing that we are here right now with money in the bank and making money but we have got a long way to go.
Photography by Patrick O’Rourke.