RIM BlackBerry Fusion: A Swing And A Miss?

RIM's new MDM platform will handle BlackBerry, Android, and Apple iOS devices--but it's arriving too late for some IT shops.
As Research In Motion tries to stanch the flow of customers away from its products, its latest offering, BlackBerry Fusion Mobile, builds on the company's strongest asset: BlackBerry Enterprise Server. Fusion, now in beta, will let IT admins apply some of the same features they use to manage and control BlackBerry devices to Android and iOS devices, using technology RIM acquired when it bought Ubitexx earlier this year.

Problem is, many organizations have already chosen a product to manage other mobile device platforms, or at least they've resigned themselves to the notion of using more than one product. "Had this come out 12 months ago, we'd have been excited about it," says Jonathan Feldman, director of IT services for a midsized city in North Carolina, "but we've already accepted that we soon won't be a RIM shop. This is too little too late for us."

Of course, there are still plenty of RIM loyalists. But a big challenge for enterprise IT device managers, and therefore for RIM, will be whether to maintain different lock-down policies for different devices.

While RIM offers lots of profile templates for various user and group roles, many shops forego nuance and lock down devices as tightly as they can across the board. For example, they force all Web traffic through the company's filters, so that the policies set for surfing within the company's walls are also observed on company-managed devices. While those policies, along with under-powered hardware, have translated into a nearly unusable Web experience on most BlackBerrys, end users had no idea whether to blame the design of the phone or browser software, or the company's policies.

But that won't be the case for existing iPhone or Android users who let their company manage their personal device. If they see a substantial change in performance, or if they're blocked from reaching sites deemed by the company to be inappropriate, they'll make their displeasure known.

RIM's answer for its own devices is BlackBerry Balance, which creates a secure environment for work-related functions and allows more-unfettered access for personal use. The Balance feature, however, won't be available for Android and iOS devices; it's available only on BlackBerry 7 phones and PlayBook tablets. When pressed, RIM's VP of product management and marketing, Alan Panezic, wasn't able to say whether Balance would ever be brought to non-BlackBerry devices.

Mobile device management vendors are tackling this issue. Startup Enterproid, as just one example, has developed such a capability for Android phones. AT&T offers the product as a cloud-based service called Toggle.

So it appears that while Fusion will be the platform for managing all devices--including Windows phones and tablets, if the demand is there, Panezic says--devices will in no way be equal when it comes to management features.

Panezic was also cagey when pressed on licensing and pricing, saying only that the RIM product would be competitive with other MDM products. Given that RIM appears to be behind others in its capability to manage Android and iOS devices, about the only ones likely to be happy with the RIM offerings are the IT admins familiar with the BES management interface.

Art Wittmann is director of InformationWeek Reports, a portfolio of decision-support tools and research reports. You can write to him at [email protected].

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