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10/24/2012
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BlackBerry Loses Its Grip On Federal Government

RIM's BlackBerry platform has maintained a strong following in government for years, but that is changing.

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The BlackBerry, carried by FBI agents, Congressional staffers, and even President Obama, this week suffered its latest and most serious setback as the de facto mobile device in federal government, when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement chose the iPhone as its new mobile platform. Barring some rapid innovation by RIM, the BlackBerry's best days in Washington will soon be over.

After eight years with BlackBerry, ICE, part of the Department of Homeland Security, indicated in a solicitation on FedBizOpps.gov that it would no longer be using BlackBerry, joining a growing list of agencies that are increasing their use of Android and iOS devices and, in some cases, switching away from the BlackBerry entirely. In all, 17,676 ICE employees will now be receiving iPhones instead of BlackBerrys.

The Department of Defense might not be far behind. Procurement documents released Monday by the Pentagon for mobile device management software included BlackBerry management only as a nice-to-have. The change is also happening at government contractors. Booz Allen Hamilton will move 25,000 employees from BlackBerrys to iPhones and Android devices, the company said last week.

[ Government IT pros face a variety of challenges. Read State CIOs Face Balancing Act In 2013. ]

BlackBerry remained a stalwart in government circles in recent years even as its grip on the business and consumer smartphone market began to loosen. However, the Federal Air Marshall Service, the Coast Guard, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are switching, or have already done so, from BlackBerry to other mobile platforms. Other agencies, including the Transportation Security Administration, the Air Force, and the Federal Aviation Administration, are widening their use of BlackBerry alternatives.

BlackBerry still has a big footprint in the government market. The company puts its government business at one million users in North America, with 400,000 device upgrades last year alone. According to RIM's most recent annual financial report, government represents one of BlackBerry's three largest user bases, along with the financial and legal industries. However, these numbers don't indicate how quickly things are changing, and it's clear that Apple and Google are hot on RIM's heels.

ICE chose to go with the iPhone because "RIM technology can no longer meet the mobile technology needs of the agency," it said in its procurement documents. "ICE has evolving mobile law enforcement business requirements that require the use of more capable and dynamic mobile technology to support its mission and personnel."

The agency attributed the change in strategy to increases in mobile capabilities--the availability of thousands of applications, for example---and end user expectations. Government employees want devices that let them do more at any time and from anyplace. The Blackberry, with its smaller ecosystem, has trouble keeping up with the rapid pace of innovation on other smartphones.

One factor that has worked in RIM's favor in business and government is BlackBerry Enterprise Server, which helps manage and secure devices in enterprise email systems. However, the emergence of mobile device management technologies from Zenprise, Good Technology, MobileIron, and others make it easier to bring other devices into the fold. "Driven by the move from well-managed and secured BlackBerrys to consumer-focused devices, MDM is the fastest-growing enterprise mobile software ever," Gartner wrote in a report earlier this year.

The enterprise feature gap has also shrunk as Apple and Android improve device security. For example, Apple hardened the kernel in iOS 6. And Google added full address space layout randomization, a powerful memory protection feature, to the latest version of Android.

RIM's VP of government solutions, Paul Lucier, said in a statement that he's "confident that BlackBerry is, and will continue to be, the best solution for government agencies." He didn't contend that the BlackBerry will continue its dominance in government. Given the way things are going, it won't.

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J. Nicholas Hoover
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J. Nicholas Hoover,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/29/2012 | 5:17:58 AM
re: BlackBerry Loses Its Grip On Federal Government
Thanks for the comment. I thought that someone might mention the wait for BBX/BB10. I in no way begrudge RIM, and they were dominant for a long time for a reason, but I can only wonder if it is a case of too little, too late.
J. Nicholas Hoover
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J. Nicholas Hoover,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/29/2012 | 5:15:28 AM
re: BlackBerry Loses Its Grip On Federal Government
FR995,

My statement about the Pentagon is supported by PWS page 23, Section 6.6.4.3 (the same section referred to by the Q&A that you mention), which indicates that the questioner to whom you refer was mistaken and that Blackberry is not required:

"The system shall support management of and application deployment to the following mobile operating systems:
GăˇApple iOS version 5 and newer versions within three months of public release
GăˇAndroid 2.2 and newer versions within three months of public release

The government desires (but does not require) the solution to also include the capability to manage and deploy applications to the following mobile operating systems:
GăˇBlackberry (versions currently supported by RIM)
GăˇWindows Mobile 6, Windows Phone 8, Windows 8 RT, and newer Windows versions within three months of public release"

Further, the ICE contract was less than a week old when this column was drafted -- hardly old news in a government where procurement cycles are measured in months if not years.

Thanks for reading,
Nick
J. Nicholas Hoover
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J. Nicholas Hoover,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/29/2012 | 5:14:07 AM
re: BlackBerry Loses Its Grip On Federal Government
-
FR995
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FR995,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/27/2012 | 3:22:09 AM
re: BlackBerry Loses Its Grip On Federal Government
Hey Nicholas Hoover,

The ICE contract is old news. Your vague statement concerning the Pentagon is unsupported in the links that you provided. While I did not find anything in it to support your weak, headline grabbing argument, I did find quite a bit of information supporting continued blackberry use like this gem from the last attachment. Attachment_9_-_Draft_RFP_Q&A_Responses.pdf

"Blackberry is outlined as a requirement in the DRFP. Can DISA expand on what is acceptable/desired to support this requirement? Can current BES servers be managed by the provided solution G㢠or does the proposed solution need to fully replace and migrate
DISAGăÍs existing BES architecture?"

I can't believe you call yourself a senior editor, pathetic.
unlockworldwide
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unlockworldwide,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/25/2012 | 8:11:29 AM
re: BlackBerry Loses Its Grip On Federal Government
This news comes as no surprise to anyone. The late Lazaridis / Balsillie management departed RIM , leaving it bereft of ideas, innovations and any competitive product. They didn't even listen to their patent attorneys and became a laughing stock when sued over the BBX moniker.

Waiting over a year to be saved by BBX, now rebranded as BB10, is fodder for Apple, Google, Microsoft, Samsung and others. These behemoths would probably have strangled RIM anyway; the BlackBerry was only ever dominant when smartphones accounted for 5% of mobile devices. Size does matter.

Unless of course you are small, agile, driven, brilliant, stunningly innovative ...... everything that RIM was not. So goodbye beloved BlackBerry. Only a "shock and awe" reception of BB10 would staunch the flow of blood and inevitable demise.
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