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BlackBerry open letter to customers is long on cliches

John Cox | Dec. 3, 2013
An "open letter" from BlackBerry's interim CEO, John Chen, to "enterprise customers and partners" is filled with wishful thinking, unfounded promises and a wealth of clichés. But without actions, the reassuring words -- if anything -- underline BlackBerry's precarious future.

"Our competitors want you to think that BES only manages BlackBerry devices, and that we are somehow more expensive than other MDSs," Chen says. "This is false."

BlackBerry has been saying in public and to customers -- for well over a year that it would provide software to manage non-BlackBerry devices. And it has done so in BES10. But Chen's assertion is a straw man argument. The issue is not about whether BlackBerry manages non-BlackBerry devices. The issue is how well it does so, given a wealth of other mature software products designed to do the same thing.

"We understand the realities of the enterprise mobility market better than anyone, and we're in the game for the long term," Chen declares.

If BlackBerry truly understood those realities better than anyone, Chen wouldn't be the third CEO in less than three years and wouldn't have to write an "open letter" in the first place.

Chen makes four factual claims but doesn't support them. First he says that "our EMM [enterprise mobile management] customer base is much larger than any of the other vendors in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Mobile Device Management and it is growing." It's not clear what Chen means by this: if he is asserting that BlackBerry still has a long list of big and medium-sized companies with enterprise BES licenses, and at least some BlackBerry devices in use, then he's correct. But so what? His appeal to BlackBerry's historical success obscures the fact that today "enterprise mobility" no longer means simply Microsoft Windows laptops and BlackBerry smartphones.

Second, he says: "We manage more mobile devices than any other vendor. Period." Presumably there is some factual basis for his claim, but he doesn't back it up. The real question is whether those mobile devices being managed largely are BlackBerry legacy devices.

Chen goes on to assert that BlackBerry "moves more secure mobile data than anyone else" without defining those terms or explaining how he measures the amount of secure data moved by any of these vendors -- and that "we have substantial cash and are not a small VC-backed pure play' MDM vendor" with, he implies, an uncertain future. Quite apart from what "substantial" means in the multi-faceted mobile market, one reason BlackBerry has cash is because of the slash-and-burn cost-cutting, including layoffs, imposed over the past two years. It's certainly not the result of massive purchases of BlackBerry smartphones.

Chen's final point is about "security."  He tells readers that "security is paramount." That sounds like an unarguable point. Except that mobile security for devices, users, data, and backend corporate networks and applications has become a more finely grained discipline compared to traditional wireline networks protected by four brick walls and a guard in reception.


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