BlackBerry recently announced that the company was considering selling itself and going private. The company's market share has fallen, and despite a year of reworking its operating system and releasing a competent, but certainly not industry-changing touch screen device, it's clear that BlackBerry cannot regain its position as a market leader in the mobile space. Even developing markets, seen as a potential savior for BlackBerry, have begun abandoning the devices for cheap Android-based smartphones.
Going private allows BlackBerry to drastically change the way it does business, perhaps even carve up the remaining bits and cease to exist as a going concern. For IT leaders, uncertainly is never a good thing, and despite BlackBerry's recent travails, millions of the devices remain in service. So, what are some of the likely scenarios for a future, privatized BlackBerry?
Perhaps the worst-case scenario for BlackBerry fans is for the company to go the way of Palm, being acquired by a larger suitor with grand plans who quickly harvests the intellectual property of the company and essentially abandons its products. Potential buyers, like Microsoft and Samsung, have been bandied about by analysts, each of which already has heavy investments in their own platforms and would likely be more interested in access to BlackBerry's enterprise customers and IP than advancing the state of BB OS.
While BB OS has failed to pique the interest of any of the major markets the company has targeted, it still owns some valuable software properties. Applications like BlackBerry Messenger have lost some of their luster as the company's market share has dwindled, but it could still be a viable player in the consumer space — and BlackBerry Enterprise Server has recently expanded into a broader Mobile Device Management (MDM) solution.
Another possibility is that BlackBerry sells or licenses its OS, possibly to an emerging market player or company wanting to target government customers. With Android being effectively free and having a massive installed base and application catalog, I can't see a Lenovo or LG licensing BB OS and paying for what can be had for free — or having to build a market for a smartphone OS where BlackBerry and even juggernaut Microsoft have failed.
Another possibility for BlackBerry is joining the legions of manufacturers selling Android-based smartphones and tablets. While the company previously rejected this option, BlackBerry has years of experience in this area and a recognized brand. Additionally, BlackBerry could leverage its enterprise chops and software properties to augment Android, perhaps even offering an "enterprise Android" that incorporates the best of BlackBerry's enterprise solutions. This may be the most painful option for the BlackBerry board — but in my mind, it represents the best way for BlackBerry devices to continue to exist in pockets around the world.
What's an IT leader to do?
With an uncertain future for BlackBerry, even the most diehard fans are looking long and hard at standardizing on iOS and Android, or considering BYOD policies that allow end users to set a corporate mobile strategy. The good news is that end users have been pushing against monolithic and generally BlackBerry-focused enterprise mobility policies and forcing IT leaders to consider a future beyond BlackBerry for a number of years. If your company hasn't already, regardless of the outcome of the BlackBerry saga, it's time to do so.
Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent over a decade providing strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com. All opinions are his and may not represent those of his employer.