BlackBerry takes another step towards mobile platform as a service

Yesterday BlackBerry released the BBM Enterprise SDK, the latest in a string of moves to become a broader enterprise app platform.

When you think of BlackBerry and developers... well, let’s face it, your thoughts probably aren’t flattering.

However, it’s time to take another look. As part of their turnaround, BlackBerry is making a push to provide all sorts of services to enterprise app developers (across all operating systems, of course). Just yesterday, BlackBerry took another step with the release of an SDK for BBM Enterprise. When you look at these efforts, it becomes clear that it could be time to think of BlackBerry as a type of platform as a service vendor.

What’s going on recently?

When we last looked, in December, BlackBerry had just finished integrating Good Technology and WatchDox into BES. The result was BlackBerry Secure, a unified platform for MDM, MAM, unified endpoint management, identity management, file sync and share, and more. (For more background on the integration, read my interview of John Herrema.)

Another piece of good news is that the handset drama of 2016 has settled down, and it shouldn’t be nearly as much of a distraction in 2017. As you’ve likely heard by now, BlackBerry is no longer making phones. There will still be plenty of assorted BlackBerry devices floating around, though: BB 10 will be maintained for another year or two; other OEMs have licensed the BlackBerry brand and technologies for use in Android handsets; and you can still buy various older BlackBerry phones. I believe there’s zero chance that any of these will be purchased in bulk by the enterprise anymore, but we’ve known that for a while and that’s okay.

Yesterday’s BBM Enterprise SDK news

Enterprise customers and ISVs will be able to use the new SDK for BBM Enterprise to build chat, voice, and video capabilities into other iOS and Android apps. It also supports location, notifications, file sharing, and message read status. Since this is built on existing BlackBerry products, it meets security and compliance requirements for regulated industries. They’re positioning it as alternative to Twilio.

BlackBerry as mobile app PaaS?

As I mentioned, the BBM Enterprise SDK is just the latest service for enterprise mobile apps. Here are some of the others:

  • The Blackberry Dynamics mobile app management platform (formerly Good Dynamics) does a lot more than basic MAM. Other capabilities include services for presence, storage, directory lookup, email send, and push, for example. BlackBerry (and previously Good) occasionally describes this as MBaaS, or mobile backend as a service.
  • Various components of BlackBerry Secure itself can be accessed via APIs, including the EFSS functionality, identity management, and the EMM platform itself.
  • BlackBerry plans to release an analytics SDK.

You can see where this is going—BlackBerry has all sorts of services, both for internal custom apps and for enterprise-oriented ISVs.  All of these efforts are under the umbrella of the “BlackBerry Development Platform,” and they’ve been reaching out with a series of developer conferences in New York and London. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them keep on adding even more PaaS or MBaaS functionality throughout the rest of the year. (Maybe they could pick up an early stage MBaaS startup to knock out more features along the way. Or an RMAD could make sense, too.) Also, remember that Good Dynamics was around for about 5 years before the acquisition, so BlackBerry has all those customers and ISV partners already.

As with anything involving BlackBerry, the usual analysis applies: Their strategy is very solid these days, but they’re still a tarnished brand. As I’ve written, sometimes they come off as defensive (though yesterday’s press conference was refreshingly forward-looking). As they continue the upswing, they have to be firing on all cylinders to avoid any regressions and distractions. I like this announcement (and the way it was delivered), and they’re starting off 2017 in a good way.

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