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What BlackBerry’s John Chen needs to tell shareholders

John Chen, Chairman and CEO of Sybase Inc., speaks at the Reuters Global Technology Summit in New York in this file photo from May 18, 2009. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/Files

It was beginning to look kind of lonely on BlackBerry’s “Meet Us” page.

Apart from John Chen, the firm’s interim CEO, only the executive biographies of its recently appointed CFO and chief legal officer are on the roster. That will soon change, however, with the addition of former SAG AG mobile service president John Sims as BlackBerry’s new enterprise lead. This hire may be the best indication yet of what Chen will be discussing on BlackBerry’s quarterly earnings call this Friday.

SAP doesn’t make devices, but its software handles everything from order-processing to human resources at many of the world’s largest firms. Other than Oracle, perhaps, SAP represents the software equivalent to what BlackBerry once was to business customers: a trusted standby. By recruiting Sims -- and by recently dismissing BlackBerry’s CMO -- Chen is making clear his immediate focus is on winning back the corporate sector, not playing catch-up to Apple in the consumer market.

Unfortunately, Apple’s iPhone may not be the biggest threat to BlackBerry’s enterprise comeback. Last week, Toronto-based research firm IDC Canada hosted its annual Webcast of prediction in the Canadian technology sector for the coming year. According to Tony Olvet, IDC Canada’s group vice-president, devices running Google’ Android operating system are expected to see a substantial increase in enterprise market share in 2014.


Already, 31 per cent of Canadian companies have told IDC they are supporting Android smartphones today, up from 22 per cent last year. Olvet forecast at least another 10 per cent bump in Android adoption over the next 12 months, with another 13 per cent of corporations evaluating the platform.

“The tide has certainly turned,” said Olvet, noting that concerns around security issues with Android are quickly disappearing as vendors like Samsung introduce features such as its Knox data protection in devices like the Galaxy S4. “The growth of Android has major implications in a country like Canada, which was once dominated by one smartphone brand alone, the BlackBerry. While Apple has made large strides securing credibility in organizations, Android is starting to do the same.”

What’s driving Android growth among businesses is the same thing that drove iOS growth among businesses: lots of productivity apps. This remains a huge hole in BlackBerry’s portfolio, and Chen will need to outline a vision that demonstrates how he will work around it. That’s why Sims could be a huge asset for BlackBerry. SAP has spent years taking the large, monolithic software that runs in enterprise data centres and figuring out ways to render critical information across mobile devices. That’s the kind of expertise Chen and the BlackBerry team need right now.

“We see a big uptick in managed mobility and in multi-platform support,” Olvet said.

Exactly. So while everyone else freaks out about what will probably be reports of terrifyingly bleak device sales on Friday, focus on what Chen and Sims plan to do with BlackBerry Enterprise Server 10 (BES10) Version 10.2. It could end up being a more important product than any smartphone BlackBerry has ever made.