Mobile Fusion: Power Play or Meltdown?

Research in Motion (RIM) hopes to be the comeback kid in the mobile battles for king of the BYOD hill. At the very least they hope to secure their position firmly on the side of enterprise IT. That’s no small feat considering Blackberry has been covered in mud and sliding down the hill for quite some time now.

From last year’s service outages across the U.S., Europe, the Middle East and Africa to constantly befuddled co-CEOs and continuously slipping device popularity, there’s been little to spark a glint of interest from IT leaders let alone solicit a look of admiration. But the company hopes to retake the hill (and IT’s patronage) with a three part strategy.

The first is Mobile Fusion, a mobile device management (MDM) play launched in April. The second and third are the Blackberry 10 platform and smartphone, unveiled Tuesday. While the reception of all three has been mostly positive, the underlying question remains: Can RIM deliver? It’s time to take a hard look at Mobile Fusion and see what’s really there for IT.

Late from the start

While MDM is far from a mature industry, several major players long ago launched into the space and made offerings that enterprise IT find largely helpful. This means RIM is already entering a competitive field with a late product. So, how does RIM measure up?

“Overall I was hoping for more in the new offering,” said Alex Bratton, president and CEO of Lextech Global Services, a global app developer for mobile workforces. “This launch seems on par or behind most mobile device management solutions already on the market.”

One dashboard, two platforms

Mobile Fusion combines two platforms, one for Blackberry and one for non-Blackberries, i.e. Apple and Android. It then combines these two platforms into a single dashboard. There is no doubt that such visibility and control is helpful to IT, but is it enough?

“The primary benefits to IT will be the ability to apply knowledge of managing a BES server to working with other brands of mobile devices,” said Bratton. “But the implementation of a BB Mobile Fusion server isn’t simple, per the manuals, and will take more learning on the part of IT.”

And there are other drawbacks to the dual platform approach to consider.

“How current will RIM keep the non-Blackberry platform?” asked Dan Croft, CEO of Mission Critical Wireless (MCW), an enterprise mobile management firm whose client list includes RIM. “Considering MobileIron releases new versions every quarter, will RIM keep a comparable pace on the non-Blackberry platform? If not, that could be a problem.”

Overall, Croft says RIM’s universal device service (UDS) is “somewhat thin compared to other solutions.”

Shooting at their foot?

“The flip side to this will be speeding the adoption of other, non-RIM mobile handsets in the enterprise,” said Bratton.

If enterprise IT does adopt Mobile Fusion in appreciable numbers, and RIM cranks out a steady stream of updates and new versions of its non-Blackberry platform, then IT may be more likely to accept a larger number of devices from a broader sweep of brands. Ultimately, this could prove detrimental to the Blackberry brand. Enterprise is, after all, where Blackberry has its strongest influence. It must at the very least hold its ground in the enterprise market and grow a larger consumer market share to survive.

But without devices that appeal to the consumer market, the BYOD market is a terribly difficult incline to scale. Consumers, i.e. employees, are far more likely to choose the more popular Apple and Android phones if IT gives them the choice. Which is why, of course, RIM followed the launch of Mobile Fusion with the unveiling of Blackberry 10, but those phones will not be available for purchase until later this year and that could very well be too late to change the tide for RIM.

On the other hand, if RIM fails to keep its dual platforms working smartly and on top of device changes, Blackberry could lose its tenuous hold on enterprise altogether. Neither scenario is a good one for RIM.

However, if RIM were to steel its nerves and boldly jump ahead of trends and truly innovate MDM then its products could see a strong and sustainable upswing.

“RIM has the opportunity to really innovate and solve some of the hard problems like they tried with BB Balance for separating personal and corporate data. Let’s see that same thing for other platforms,” said Bratton.

RIM is no stranger to overcoming seemingly immovable obstacles to success. In its earliest days the company’s idea for a Blackberry was almost aborted by carriers too dim-witted to see the future of text and mobile email and too greedy to give the technology a chance before profit was assured. Yet RIM found a way to survive and prosper despite strong carrier resistance. RIM needs to summon strength from its innovative and resilient roots to pull off a comeback now.

“Writing RIM’s obituary is overplaying the situation,” said Croft. “Do they have troubles? Yes. Are they going out of business? No, I don’t think so. They’re not going to be gone next week, next month, or anytime soon.”

RIM will live to fight another day. But will they make it to king of the BYOD hill? It all depends on how well they deliver over the next 12 months and whether the company is willing to step beyond its fears and truly innovate again.

A prolific and versatile writer, Pam Baker writes about technology, science, business, and finance for leading print and online publications including ReadWriteWeb, CIO and, Institutional Investor, Fierce Markets Network, I Six Sigma magazine, CIO Update, E-Commerce Times, and many others. Her published credits include eight traditional books, a smattering of eBooks, and several analytical studies on various technologies for research firms on two continents. Among other awards, Baker won international acclaim for her documentary on the paper-making industry, and is a member of the National Press Club and the Internet Press Guild (IPG). She lives in Georgia, USA with her family and two dogs.