BlackBerry’s return spells doom for the IT iron curtain

by Ajay Arora

February 5 2013

Ajay Arora is the CTO of Mobile for AppSense, which makes virtualization software for mobile


It's up to IT to join or fight the current wave of BYOD, says AppSense CTO Ajay Arora

The past week has brought a whirlwind of coverage surrounding the resurrection of BlackBerry. Opinions and analysis run the gamut from "too little, too late" to sincere admiration of a once mighty mobile player attempting to return to glory.

Regardless of where on this spectrum your opinion may lay, there is something far more profound that occurred this week that warrants all of us who make our livelihoods in the enterprise to pause and take notice: the mother of all walled gardens has now fallen.

The once mighty Research In Motion (RIM) that touted it would rule the corporate world with a totally closed system enabling a so-called “iron curtain” around the enterprise and the iron fist of IT is no more. BlackBerry has been forced to concede. The BlackBerry 10 mobile operating system, along with all the pomp and circumstance surrounding it, is this once giant’s last gasp to maintain some semblance of life. Make no mistake, BlackBerry enters this brave new world of “openness” after battling hard and losing – and they are making these changes kicking and screaming.  

What’s past is prologue

In my opinion, the underlying philosophy of BlackBerry was to go into the enterprise and strike fear into the hearts and minds of CIOs and CISOs by equating enterprise openness to a catastrophic disregard for security. They hammered home the message that anything that comes in on user devices was fraught with danger and could not be trusted.

Users themselves were relegated to being nothing more than unknowing and naive attack vectors riddled with viruses that would infect the enterprise if left unchecked. With their completely closed system of networked mobile devices including the PlayBook tablet, the “corporate mobile fleet” was born and dominated enterprises both large and small for years. BlackBerry did a magnificent job of selling this vision to the enterprise world and became a corporate powerhouse raking in billions of dollars in the process.

Then the iPad came along and the world was turned upside down.  

The iPad – and the now hundreds of thousands of apps that accompany it – has forever shifted the balance of power from IT to users. Of course, the iPad and Apple’s App Store are not the only game in town when it comes to mobile. But it is clearly Apple who has led the onslaught of personal devices – and the apps that come along with them – into the once-thought completely impenetrable enterprise.

It started with just a few devices and a few apps like Dropbox and then exploded to hundreds of so-called C2B apps – consumer apps used for business purposes. It’s become so big that we in the enterprise have anointed it with its own acronym, “BYOD” – bring your own device. And BYOD’s trajectory isn’t going anywhere but up.

BlackBerry’s first reaction to BYOD – like any virtual monopoly – was to ignore it as a passing fad. When the sleeping giant finally woke-up to BYOD, they doubled down on their message of fear-uncertainty-and-doubt (FUD) to its enterprise customers in an attempt to at least contain BYOD if they couldn’t kill it. As the tidal wave of devices and apps entering the enterprise gained tsunami strength, they finally had to concede defeat.

[BYOD strategies will be the focus of a major session at the Tablet Strategy West conference, February 20].

Will balance be restored?

Only time will tell if BlackBerry’s latest experiment in forced reinvention will be a success. Regardless of the outcome, BlackBerry’s path of self-realization should serve as a prophetic lesson to all of us in the enterprise: embrace the closed enterprise and resist openness at your own peril.

With BYOD, the balance of power has now forever shifted in favor of end users – this is at the heart and soul of what’s become what some call “enterprise consumerization.” It will serve all of us well to forever keep in mind that to end users in the enterprise, the best IT is no IT at all.  

End users are fed up with having to ask and wait for IT to capriciously grant them permission to use the devices and apps they want in an effort to simply do their jobs. Rather, they seek the freedom to do their job on any device; using the apps they choose, at any time and from anywhere. And that’s just what devices like the iPad and apps like Dropbox have done: they have liberated users from what they see as the tyranny of IT.  

It’s IT’s choice to take up arms against this sea of troubles, or to rather see this as an opportunity for rebirth as a true enabler of users and of the businesses they support.

IT can either take the futile path of trying to fight and fend-off BYOD or it can choose to further enable it by re-examining and re-architecting its policies and choice of tools it uses to secure devices and apps in the enterprise. BYOD is not only a revolution for end users, it is also a chance for IT to re-invent itself.

Ajay Arora is the CTO of Mobile for AppSense, which makes virtualization software for mobile

If you are a tablet industry professional and would like to contribute a vendor-agnostic analysis piece to our Opinions section, please contact Michael Singer, Business editor.

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