A new report from research firm Ovum suggests that over the next five years Android will pull even with BlackBerry in terms of smartphone sales to the enterprise — in other words, the devices that businesses purchase in order to hand out to employees and run off of the corporate telecom account.

Our colleagues at Silicon.com have a summary of the Ovum report:

“Google’s mobile OS will account for 26 per cent of corporate smartphone shipments in 2016, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 21 per cent. While BlackBerry will remain the dominant smartphone player among business users over the next five years – thanks to strong device management and security capabilities making it ‘a favourite with IT departments’ – it will only retain this lead by a whisker-thin margin, according to research by Ovum – accounting for 27 per cent of the market in 2016. Enterprise shipments of BlackBerrys will grow at a CAGR of just 5.3 per cent between 2011 and 2016, the analyst forecasts – rising from 10.9 million at the end of this year to 14.8 million in 2016. Ovum predicts 4.7 million Android devices will ship to enterprise users by the end of this year, and up to 14.2 million in five years’ time… Ovum predicts iPhone shipments to business users will reach 9.3 million in 2016, accounting for 17.8 per cent of the market and growing at a CAGR of 11.2 per cent. The analyst forecasts 4.9 million iPhones will ship to business users at the end of this year – slightly more than Android devices.”

Sanity check

Before I mention the reasons why I’m skeptical about this prediction, let’s talk about why Android devices are going to be attractive to enterprise buyers. It really boils down to just one thing: cost. Enterprises tend to get BlackBerries for next-to-nothing from the telecom carriers because they don’t buy the latest models. They buy the ones that are a generation behind and have been discounted. In the Android ecosystem, there are plenty of low-cost models that carriers will probably offer for free to enterprises that purchase and activate a whole fleet of them. With Android, enterprises can also migrate off of BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) on the backend, and save a big chunk of money. Only companies with highly-sensitive data will need BES. Others are looking to drop it as quickly as they can in order to cut costs, especially in light of the recent BES outages.

However, Android in the enterprise is not a slam dunk, for a couple reasons. First, fewer and fewer companies are buying phones for their employees. Instead, they’re allowing to people to connect their own smartphones to the company network to access corporate data. In many cases, they’re using solutions like Good Technology to enable secure “bring your own device” (BYOD) scenarios. Throughout 2011 Good has consistently said that more people are activating iOS devices and Android devices in the companies that use its solution. Speaking of iPhone, most of the CIOs and IT leaders we’ve been talking to during 2011 say that they worry about Android security issues more than iOS security issues, and that’s one of the biggest obstacles to great Android adoption. Another factor that will matter to the enterprise is the recent report that Android hardware fails more than iPhone and BlackBerry.