The BlackBerry has been ubiquitous in banking since the early 2000s, when the devices were picked up by all the major wireless network providers and became trendy enough to create CrackBerry addicts throughout the corporate world. For CIOs and their IT staffs, Research in Motion (RIMM), the BlackBerry provider, has long been a safe bet — other than occasional server outages, the security and controls provided by BlackBerry Enterprise Server have given a comfort level to those responsible for keeping corporate data and devices safe.
But RIM's falling prospects and the trend toward "bring your own device" have upset this sense of security. Today, RIM reported that revenue for the fourth quarter of fiscal 2012 was $4.2 billion, down 19% from $5.2 billion in the previous quarter and down 25% from last year. According to the latest Comscore figures, Google Android has 48.6 percent of smartphone market share, Apple has 29.5 percent and RIM has 15.2 percent, followed by Microsoft (4.4 percent) and Symbian (1.5 percent).
“BlackBerry has lost it big time,” says Zahid Afzal, CIO of Huntington Bank in Columbus, Ohio. “In the forums I participate in, people are moving off it so fast it’s unbelievable. I remember when I first got a BlackBerry it was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Another bank CIO who still runs a BlackBerry shop has doubts about continuing. "I worry abut the future of RIM and BlackBerry from a security point of view, specifically given RIM's standing as having the most secure network," he said. "Often we're asked, 'Why can't we use our Apples and other devices?"
Financial institutions have begun supporting other mobile devices in the trend toward BYOD (for "bring your own device") or "IT consumerization," in which mployees who have become addicted to other devices, such as Apple and Android phones or tablets such as the iPad, ask to use their device for work or be issued their preferred device at work. 1st Advantage Federal Credit Union in Newport News, Va., for instance, allows employees to use any kind of device; however the only company IT assets it lets them access from those devices are the Outlook Exchange servers.
Yet RIM still dominates the corporate world. "RIM is far from dead in the enterprise," says Jacob Jegher, senior analyst at Celent. "In fact, it's alive and well. There is a trend toward a switch in the next year to two years as things like BYOD come into play. This is creating a mishmash environment where personal needs and business needs are colliding and causing turmoil in the enterprise. But the BlackBerry at the moment is still the dominant device — that's been confirmed to me numerous times by the heads of cash management at very large banks, whose clients are on BlackBerries."
RIM foresaw a lot of what is presently happening, Jegher says. "They're not totally out to lunch when it comes to focusing on the enterprise market." He points out that the company now has software that companies can use to manage BlackBerry, Google Android and Apple iOS devices. "They're saying, we get it, not everyone wants a BlackBerry, folks are going to want to put other devices under BlackBerry Enterprise Server along with the security that comes with that," he says. "It's a great idea, because it extends the life of BlackBerry Enterprise Server in the enterprise.
"Based on all this, I don't see RIM leaving the enterprise any time soon," Jegher says.
"Is stock tanking, yes. Is management being ousted? Yes. Have they failed when it comes to innovating their devices? Yes. Have the Apple fanboy sites trashed RIM in the media to the point where it's tarnished its reputation more than it deserves? Absolutely."
BYOD has its limitations, Jegher points out. "If folks start bringing their own devices to work, the personal device becomes subject to corporate rules, policies and security," he says. "Often what happens is, BYOD ends up being a total failure, because folks want to access sites outside the policies, such as social networking, and I'm not about to hand over this personal device because then I'd be blocked by the security software." Thus people end up going back to carrying two devices, one for work and the other for personal use.
No matter the pace at which it happens, the softening of BlackBerry-only policies at financial institutions will be costly. "You do need better tools, no question," the Northeaster CIO says. "A lot of security tools were built in for the BlackBerry by RIM, that's why you paid for their server. Now CIOs and CISOs have to worry about it and handle it on their own."