John Sims hasn’t been with BlackBerry long but he goes way back with CEO John Chen. The president of global enterprise services Sims is excited to be a part of Chen’s quest to rebuild BlackBerry. Ahead of his Day One CTIA talk outlining new mobile challenges for IT and the risks of not making mobility a boardroom-level priority, Sims spoke with Wireless Week about his transition from SAP, BlackBerry’s focus on security and the evolving MDM space.
Wireless Week: Can you give me a little bit of background on what the transition from SAP to BlackBerry has been like?
John Sims: I came to BlackBerry because I could see that the company had a lot of assets that it could leverage. I’ve been familiar with the company for a long time and thought it was a great opportunity to return it to an iconic place within the industry. And probably even more so because I worked with John Chen at Sybase and SAP prior to him leaving. I really enjoyed working for John. I’ve actually known him for a long time. He and I started our careers at the same company a long, long time ago. We knew each other quite well. I knew his management style, enjoyed it and believed he was the right leader to take the company back to where it needed to be. I was happy to be able to join the team and help to drive an important part of the business, the enterprise business and also I manage the BBM business for BlackBerry.
WW: BlackBerry has obviously been through a lot in past couple years. What are your goals for the enterprise division, especially as John Chen has put less of a focus on devices recently?
Sims: In terms of the focus on enterprise, clearly it’s a cornerstone of the transformation we’re trying to take BlackBerry through. I think first and foremost we wanted to make sure there was a clear identity for BlackBerry within the enterprise space. I think we’ve many times over articulated the focus is going to be based on a foundation of security because we think security is becoming a more important priority among IT decision makers in the enterprise. Security has risen not just as an IT issue but actually making it into the board of directors as a risk and governance issue for companies. So we want to make sure that the identity for BlackBerry in the enterprise is very firmly built around this notion of security and security associated with communications, collaboration and related tools and capabilities that enable productivity. So that’s first and foremost.
And then it’s about making sure that BlackBerry is committed to being not just an enterprise player that manages BlackBerry devices but an enterprise player that has solutions that cut across all the major platforms that are in use in the enterprise. So very much so on Android, iOS and, with some of our products coming later this year, also with Windows Phone, in addition to the BlackBerry platform.
And thirdly, I would say we are trying to go through a transition where we change the emphasis. The emphasis is going to be on software and services delivered into the enterprise as opposed to purely on the device business. It’s not to say that the device business is unimportant. It just means that we have to have a much stronger complement to our business in the enterprise space. Traditionally for BlackBerry that has been our BlackBerry Enterprise Server but if you look forward and you see the things we will do as we execute this transition you’ll see a whole host of additional services.
WW: There are a lot of players in the MDM space right now. Where does BlackBerry see itself in relation to other players in the market right now?
Sims: The first thing I would say is we see the MDM space as being a commodity. We see MDM in itself as just table stakes. The emphasis has moved beyond the management of devices into the management of applications, data, and all the surrounding capabilities. We think of MDM as being left behind in the rearview mirror and the companies who solely focus around that are going to be left behind with it.
The emphasis going forward is to show our customers that we have a very broad range of capabilities. The other thing I would say is that device management is going to evolve some. The focus has been on managing smartphones, tablets and to some degree desktops. But in the future MDM is going to be about how to do you play in the Internet of Things space as well. We think, based on our heritage in our QNX division, that we have a significant step up on most of the other players if not all of the other players in the MDM space. We think we’ve got an opportunity to move forward at a much faster pace.
WW: Is BlackBerry looking over its shoulder at all as Apple and IBM announced their partnership?
Sims: We’re smart and humble enough to always look over our shoulder and see who’s around. I think when you get arrogant enough that you don’t do that, that’s when you get in trouble.
Apple and IBM are both very large companies. Apple doesn’t have much of a heritage in the enterprise, not really as an enterprise player. And IBM, of course, does. Both very large companies with lots of resources so I think it would be foolish for anyone to ignore what might come out of that partnership.
But at the same time I don’t think we feel intimidated, for a few reasons. For one, this is not the first time in history that IBM and Apple have partnered together. In fact, by my count, having had the fortune and misfortune of being around for a long time, this is probably the fourth time that they’ve had a major partnership or joint venture they’ve announced. So far the others haven’t gone very well. Those are two very different companies with different cultures, different focus, and different understanding and knowhow. So the others haven’t done well. That doesn’t mean that this [partnership] won’t be successful. But if it is successful it will produce something in the next year plus. We feel like we have good answers for our customers today in the things they want to accomplish in the mobile space. We don’t think our customers have to wait to see what comes out of an Apple-IBM partnership.
WW: Does BlackBerry still see its handset business as necessary to protect its place in the world of MDM?
Sims: I don’t think we see our handset business as the way to protect our space in the MDM business. I think the handset business is important for other reasons. In the MDM space, you just have to build great products that people are going to want and they have to work cross-platform.
The BlackBerry device business doesn’t hurt us but it’s not on the back of that that we become a strong player in future years. It’s on the back of producing great products that our customers want to use.