In an enterprise-oriented road map for its BlackBerry smartphone platform, RIM (Research in Motion) is planning a BlackBerry client for Microsoft's SharePoint collaboration platform as well as middleware capabilities for enterprise application integration and cloud-based mobile device management.
The road map supports RIM's hope that businesses in general, and CIOs in particular, will get past their experimentation with iPhone and other mobile devices and turn back to the security and compliance approaches of the past that favor the BlackBerry platform. "We believe issues of complance and security will again be their focus," said Alec Taylor, vice president of product marketing at RIM. He suggested that only the BlackBerry platform can support such a focus, saying that mobile management tools for competing platforms aren't capable enough.
SharePoint client for BlackBerry
Due early this year, the BlackBerry SharePoint client for Microsoft manages documents and shares SharePoint calendar events, according to RIM. The client provides document-centric collaboration and integrates with BlackBerry applications like email, calendar, and browser.
"[The client] allows you access to SharePoint from your BlackBerry," enabling users to get work documents and collaborate with colleagues while out of the office or away from their PC, Taylor said. The SharePoint client would function with the BES (BlackBerry Enterprise Server).
Forrester Research analyst Jeffrey Hammond lauded RIM's SharePoint move. "I think it makes a lot of sense because we've seen almost viral deployment of SharePoint," and customers want mobile support for it, Hammond said. He added getting SharePoint on the rival iOS or Android platforms would be a difficult proposition. (There are third-party SharePoint clients for iOS, however.) RIM needs to make a move like this to keep BlackBerry popular within IT organisations, Hammond said.
Enterprise application integration
The company's BEAM (BlackBerry Enterprise Application Middleware), also due in 2011, is intended to help BlackBerrys better accommodate applications initially written for PCs. "BEAM is a set of libraries and APIs that help to mobilize line-of-business applications" for delivery to a BlackBerry, Taylor said. RIM is working with partners like Oracle and SAP to tune applications for BEAM.
Also working with BES, BEAM would feature alerts to client-side applications and make device-side information available to server-side applications. RIM also said that BEAM will automatically rework the data transmitted from such applications to be more efficient, so as to reduce the load on cellular and Wi-Fi networks.
BEAM also met with analyst Hammond's approval: "Employees are spending more and more time out of their offices and away from their desktops and laptops, but they still want these capabilities."
BES comes to the cloud
RIM's cloud plans involve cloud enablement of the BlackBerry Enterprise Server. "Right now, BES is an on-premise solution. As we see more organizations migrating to the cloud, we're thinking about a strategy with respect to what that means for BES," Taylor said. "BES in the cloud is on the road map."
The planned cloud BES service will provide a web-based console for managing BlackBerrys and is designed for small organizations using an Internet service provider or hosted email, RIM said.
Also on RIM's road map is an enterprise server architecture for BES that is designed for the cloud. That architecture would accommodate cloud computing through multitenancy and "significant" scalability improvements, according to RIM.
BES 5.0.3 and PlayBook tablet due soon; BlackBerry OS 6 timeline unclear
RIM also plans to ship by April BES 5.0.3, which it announced in July. The update will support BlackBerry OS 6's ability to selectively wipe corporate information while leaving personal information and apps in place. So far, the only BlackBerry OS 6 device available is the BlackBerry Torch, which was released last summer, and RIM executives could not comment on when additional BlackBerry OS 6 devices would be available or if any existing BlackBerry models would be upgradable to the new OS.
RIM also previewed its PlayBook tablet, which it said would ship by April. The tablet features a seven-inch screen and runs its own operating system, the BlackBerry Tablet OS based on the QNX OS RIM acquired a year ago. Pricing will be competitive to other tablets, which typically sell for $600 to $900, RIM senior product manager Ryan Bidan said.
When tethered to a BlackBerry via Bluetooth, the PlayBook can access BES-enabled services, such as email and corporate apps. When not tethered, the PlayBook can access the Internet via Wi-Fi and run locally installed apps, but it cannot access BES-enabled services or be directly managed via BES, according to RIM. RIM had no details on ways to manage a PlayBook outside of a BES environment, such as for employees who are issued a tablet but not a smartphone or whose smartphone is not a BlackBerry.