BlackBerry recently announced that they will allow third-party vendors to directly manage BlackBerry 10 (BB10) devices through their formerly closed mobile device management APIs. While this sounds like great news at first, when you think about it, it's mostly a symbolic gesture. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that—it’s just that the impact will be small.)
Previously, the only way for third-party vendors to manage BlackBerry devices was through Exchange ActiveSync, agent apps, or even just by linking BlackBerry Enterprise Server to other MDM servers. Now BlackBerry announced that AirWatch, Citrix, and IBM will be the first third-party vendors to interface directly with BlackBerry 10 management APIs.
The important thing to know is that when BlackBerry 10 devices are managed by these third parties, they will not be taking advantage of the BlackBerry NOC infrastructure, which for years has been a major selling point for BlackBerry devices.
So without the NOC, what can you still do?
Plenty of things. First of all, if you’re not concerned about the NOC and all you want to do is manage BB10 the same way manage iOS, Android, and Windows Phone, now you at least you have much better control and visibility into the device.
As you would expect, the MDM APIs in BB10 are quite extensive, and they include a framework for separating work and personal data called BlackBerry Balance. Devices can be managed in several different modes, including fully-corporate, corporate with a personal workspace, and a mode suitable for BYOD. (More BB10 MDM documentation is here, including the administration guide and policy reference.)
Of course I have to add a disclaimer that the management options could vary depending on how third-party vendors choose to implement BB10 management—we’ll have to wait until they’re up and running to know what features we’ll get.
How significant will third-party BB10 management be?
Companies who are deploying fleets of BlackBerrys are distinctly concerned about security, and the BlackBerry NOC infrastructure is a big part of that. Also, most of the BlackBerrys out there—and indeed, the majority of new BlackBerrys being sold today—are still the older BlackBerry 7 OS models. So the number of customers who will want to manage BB10 devices and don’t care about the NOC is quite small.
On the other hand, the risk for BlackBerry here is small, too. They’ll still retain their core customers who care about the NOC while at the same time getting to talk about how they’re being more open.
Naysayers will argue that this move is mostly symbolic—but again, who cares? There’s nothing wrong with that. BlackBerry is being more open, and a few other vendors will have better device coverage. It’s a win-win.