The threat of the BlackBerry service being disrupted or shut down because of RIM’s ongoing court battle over patents has forced some IT chiefs to look at alternative mobile email services.

RIM has this week won the first key court ruling on a patent infringement suit brought by NTP, and a US judge is due to rule on an injunction that would allow NTP to stop the sale and support of BlackBerry wireless devices in the US.

Half of’s 12-strong CIO Jury IT user panel said they either have or plan to evaluate BlackBerry alternatives because of the risk that the service could be shut down or disrupted if RIM lost the case.

For some it is simply a sensible precaution. Neil Hammond, head of IT at British Sugar, said that while he has evaluated an alternative mobile email service he would only look to switch across if the RIM service was shut down.

He said: “The business view is that the RIM service is, overall, easier to use and more foolproof than alternative supplier services.”

Others cited the wider technology trend towards a single mobile device versus RIM’s proprietary service, rather than the current legal battle, as a reason for looking at rival mobile email services.

Kirk Downey, CTO at Centrica, said: “We have already implemented a competing solution primarily due to the closed, proprietary stance that RIM has taken historically.”

Phil Young, head of IT at Amtrak Express Parcels, said: “Even if RIM and the BlackBerry service remain intact after the legal battle I still see a ‘single mobile device’ strategy as the way forward for our particular business.”

At the British Library, which currently supports around 60 BlackBerry devices, the upgrade of the organisation’s email infrastructure to Exchange 2003 is the main driver for looking at alternative services.

Paul Haley, head of IS operations at the British Library, said: “Once that is in place then we will be seriously evaluating the Microsoft alternative to RIM.”

But addiction to the BlackBerry – dubbed the ‘CrackBerry’ on account of users breaking out in a sweat if they are separated from their device for more than a few minutes – remains strong for the other half of the CIO Jury, with one even emailing us his comment from his BlackBerry in Mexico.

Pete Smith, IT and telecoms director at Inmarsat, said alternative devices are continually evaluated as they come on the market but internal users still prefer the BlackBerry.

Smith said: “The simple interface, great battery life and push email make it easy to use and even easier to support. Of course it’s poor at viewing attachments and its web browser is slow and incompatible with many websites but all of this can be forgiven because it performs the basic tasks of combining a phone and receiving emails so well.”

Peter Birley, IT director at law firm Browne Jacobson, said he believes RIM’s legal dispute will be resolved without the BlackBerry service being threatened or disrupted.

He said: “The BlackBerry is a superb device that is loved by our lawyers and enables them to keep in touch with their clients wherever and whenever. The Microsoft smart phone solution is the closest rival, or will be, in our opinion but in the meantime it is BlackBerry or bust.”

Summing up the feelings of many other executives Nicholas Evans, European IT director at Key Equipment Finance, simply said: “I can’t think of life without the BlackBerry.”

Today’s CIO Jury was…

Peter Birley, IT director, Browne Jacobson
Ken Davis, head of IT, Five
Mark Devine, IT director, ACCA
Kirk Downey, CTO, Centrica
Nicholas Evans, European IT director, Key Equipment Finance
Kevin Fitzpatrick, CTO, Manpower
Paul Haley, head of IS operations, British Library
Neil Hammond, head of IT, British Sugar
Christopher Linfoot, IT director, LDV Vans
Simon Norbury, head of ICT, Westminster City Council
Pete Smith, IT and telecoms director, Inmarsat
Phil Young, head of IT, Amtrak Express Parcels

If you are a CIO, IT director or equivalent at a large or small company in the private or public sector and you want to be part of’s CIO Jury pool, or you know an IT chief who should be, then drop us a line at