From chunky keyboard-bearing devices to sleek software.
To some, the word ‘BlackBerry‘ will always bring to mind a chunky phone with a full keyboard on it. For some, it might also recall the dinner guest who seems to be constantly checking it, putting everyone else to shame by working while not at work.
This is probably the last thing the company wants, however, as under CEO John Chen it is attempting to move away from its device past to become a leader in the enterprise software market.
Tim Choi, vice president of product management at BlackBerry, who joined from recent acquisition WatchDox, credits BlackBerry with pioneering the concept of enterprise mobility.
"I think BlackBerry really did start the mobile workforce. I remember carrying the old BlackBerry 9000 and 8000 series, with the scroll on the side. We really did start it all off and showed the value of allowing people to work wherever they are.
"We did start it, and that’s why I find it an exciting time for the company. Not only do we continue to allow BlackBerry users to be secure and productive, we’re now taking our strength and bringing it to other devices such as iOS, Android and PCs. "
This ambition is not limited to existing platforms, however.
"As we enter the IoT world, we are well positioned with our portfolio of products and technologies to secure all of that too.
"We really did kick it all off and with all of the recent acquisitions we’re well positioned to lead it again."
These acquisitions include, as well as Choi’s own former company WatchDox, AtHoc and former EMM rival Good Technology.
"Good has been recognised by its customers around its strength in iOS and other operating systems, their strength in applications management and containerisation. They have one of the largest numbers for application support.
"We will be combining their strength in OSs, containers with our strength in device management, network operations centres, our secure connectivity around the world combined with content management and control. So you have a full stack right there that is quite elegant in terms of how it has come together."
According to Choi, this approach is paying off in terms of industry recognition.
"The perception of what BlackBerry is is changing, has changed. Historically we’ve been known for the strength of security in our devices, so it’s a natural transition as we move into the enterprise software market."
Currently, Apple devices have an overwhelming presence in the enterprise. Due to the sleek interfaces and relatively high reputation for security, the average employee enjoys using his or her iOS device for work. Choi contends that the former enterprise device leader is not concerned about Apple’s dominance in devices.
"From a software perspective I don’t see Apple as a competitor, I see them as a partner. I see the Apple devices as something that I can add value on top of."
BlackBerry may have accepted that other device vendors have the upper hand. However, that apparently doesn’t mean it’s giving up on selling its handsets.
"Partly because the enterprise software portfolio is newer, you’ll see greater growth. But that’s just because it’s new. In terms of the devices, we continue to invest in them. We continue to put out releases and lots of exciting devices will be brought to market.
"It is without a doubt focused on those who value security and business productivity."
Cybersecurity is, of course, seeing increasing attention from enterprises as attacks increase in number and profile. However, at a keynote at the Gartner Security and Risk Management summit in London, Gartner’s Peter Firstbrook claimed security compromises were inevitable.
"I think from a security principle perspective it’s an ongoing exercise that attackers continue growing their sophistication," responds Choi. "They continue having new ways to attack and we as security professionals need to respond in kind. It’s not like we can build a wall or protect something and then we’re done.
"The reason why hackers would want to invest in more resources to hit company is that the information held by these companies is increasing in quantity and increasing in value. For example, this includes personally identifiable information like health records or credit card numbers which have dollar values associated with them.
"Intellectual property is the lifeline and bloodline of a company – the means to build a competitive product out there. There is an increasing amount of state-sponsored corporate espionage that’s happening.
"Certain countries are targeting global multinationals. They are clearly trying to steal information to build their industries and industries within their own country. So this game of trying to get information is one big part of what is driving the hacks. At the end of the day it’s about the information the company holds. That’s why sophistication keeps increasing.
"Should we throw our hands up in the air and say there’s nothing we can do anymore? Of course not. We have to respond in kind."