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Is security the key to BlackBerry 10 regaining enterprise dominance for RIM?

BlackBerry manufacturer RIM has had a year to forget. The company’s financial woes have been well-documented, and little has hopped from the production line to distract commentators from miserable quarterly reports, bleak forecasts from analysts, and news of widespread job cuts.

Yet the customary RIM news update typically finishes with a hopeful nod to the firm’s big shot at redemption. The forthcoming launch of BlackBerry 10, due at the end of January 2013, may well be last chance saloon for RIM, but the company is defiant that the new OS and accompanying handsets will reassert BlackBerry’s ailing status as a major player in the mobile arena.

Much of the attention on BB10 has come from a consumer perspective, but it is the revitalisation of BlackBerry’s corporate-friendly origins that could provide the key to RIM’s recovery. One of the cornerstones of BB’s enterprise platform has been security, and fresh innovation in this area will – according to RIM – make BB10 more secure than its predecessors and its market rivals.

“Security is a key part of the BlackBerry 10 experience,” Mike Brown, RIM’s Vice President of Security Product Management & Research, told ITProPortal, as he frequently emphasised the importance of sophisticated but usable mobile security.

If an operating system is to work effectively in an enterprise, security has to go beyond plugging holes and merely shoring up the handset itself, Brown argues. “It isn’t just about the device. Security is about how the device interacts with the management software the organisation deploys,” he said. One example of management software that’s seeing a significant increase in adoption is BYOD suites, and keen to capitalise on the growing ‘bring your own device’ trend in the workplace, RIM has put a BYOD-friendly feature at the heart of its security offering for BB10.

BlackBerry Balance, as it is called, allows the user to run two completely separate profiles on the same device. Thus, sensitive work data is better protected by being kept apart from personal operations, while the use of applications within the work profile can be regulated remotely by the user’s organisation. IT managers concerned with the merging of work and personal activity on the same company device will no doubt be intrigued by the prospect of BlackBerry Balance, which appears a viable solution to many of the stumbling blocks that arise in a BYOD environment.

“BlackBerry Balance works extremely well within a BYOD deployment,” Brown said, adding that RIM “wanted to make sure you could keep that personal section of your life on a device within the enterprise.” This “unified experience”, it is claimed, means the user notices the benefits as much as the employer does, as the personal touches that make our devices unique to us are maintained, and the juggling of home and work organisation can be done with ease on the same platform.

When asked whether these fresh ideas were key to BlackBerry renewing its reputation as the secure and reliable OS, Brown slid into slightly hollow corporate-speak, twice offering that “it’s really about the journey as well as the destination” - but his point was worthy. New features like BlackBerry Balance - the latest ‘destination’ - represent only the tip of RIM’s iceberg after years of careful development in the business space, and just because the company’s slow-down has invited competition in the arena from iOS, Android et al, this does not mean that years of progress and innovation on BlackBerry has suddenly been lost.

Brown described BlackBerry has having a “long heritage of security,” and continued, “I think you have to point out that BlackBerry is still a dominant player in the enterprise space and government space all around the world.” Eye-catching hardware design and software gimmicks may be responsible for driving mobile success in the consumer arena, but in the enterprise, where profits can be just as great, features like security are most valuable when attracting custom.

“I spend a lot of time talking to our enterprise customers,” Brown explains, “and I know from the conversations I’ve had that security continues to be a huge topic for them, because it allows them to do so many exciting things as an organisation.” With the confidence of operating on a secure platform, companies can be more daring, creative, and ultimately, successful, Brown argued.

Recognition for BB10’s security capabilities hasn’t just come from RIM either. The National Institute of Standards and Technology in the US has already awarded the OS the FIPS 140-2 certification, giving it the stamp of approval for use at government level. With the endorsement coming nearly three months before BB10’s release, RIM described the feat as “remarkable” at the time. According to Brown, it demonstrates that the latest BB iteration can dominate public and private sectors worldwide, including the UK, where he is confident RIM’s “long-standing relationship” with organisations will continue to bear fruit.

Should BlackBerry Balance work as well in practice as it does in theory, BB10 may well have the key novelty factor to supplement the security heritage. BlackBerry has lost considerable ground in the consumer space to the ubiquitous iPhone and steady stream of attractive Android handsets, but these devices still have ground to make up if they are to become the true corporate staple that BlackBerry came to represent. In an age when BYOD and mobility is on the rise, leaving important data and a great deal of power in the hands of everyday employees, reminding the business world that RIM provides the most secure platform on the market could be vital to BlackBerries muscling their way back into blazer pockets. And if this corporate hegemony is regained, that RIM revival may well start to materialise.