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
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
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.