BlackBerry is the NFL while our competitors are Division 3, says John Chen

In an interview with American Banker, BlackBerry CEO John Chen outlined a short-term plan for the company that is laser-focused on security. Secure smartphones; the BlackBerry Enterprise Server 12 and secure enterprise messaging based on BlackBerry Messenger are the cornerstones. In coming releases, the company will connect handsets, server and messaging software, conceivably creating an airtight infrastructure for mobile communications.

Chen points out that awareness of security and identity management rises all the time in the financial industry. He says BlackBerry has an advantage over competitors like Good Technology, AirWatch, and MobileIron because of the time-proven, patented security components of its technology.

“The Federal Reserve Bank and OCC put cybersecurity as one of the top risk factors for all financial institutions in the U.S.” he says. “This plays to the strength of BlackBerry. Because of our network operating center and all our patents, and because of the way we encrypt messages, the way we build our handset and server, we have the only end-to-end encryption.”

Observers say the company, whose BlackBerry Enterprise Server is still in use at many banks for managing employees’ mobile devices, has a chance.

“BlackBerry technology has a strong foothold in the [financial services] market,” notes Jacob Jegher, research director at Celent. “BlackBerry Enterprise Server has been the de facto standard for years in terms of managing security and policies for corporate-issued BlackBerry mobile devices.”

James Gordon, chief technology officer at Needham Bank in Massachusetts, also wonders about the “too little, too late” question.

“BlackBerry has to create something markedly different and new,” Gordon says. “They were innovators of push email. Before that, there was no such thing as a wireless email connection. They innovated, they rightfully earned their spot at the top of the market, they held that until 2008, but they lost that crown as soon as the iPhone came out in 2007.” Apple changed the game by positioning smartphones as more than just a device for email, but a whole mobile operating system.

“In order to get ahead, you can’t just feature match, that will not get you ahead of the game,” he says.

Needham Bank two years ago began using MobileIron, which provides device management with one dashboard to manage apps across all employee devices, Gordon says. Needham Bank employees are allowed to use whatever devices they want; some employees have been issued iPhones and iPads.

“I’m glad BlackBerry finally woke up, but it’s a stronger market now with MobileIron, AirWatch, Good Technology, and BlackBerry,” Gordon says. “I welcome BlackBerry to that space, but they will have to prove themselves.”

At the mention of such competitors, Chen counters,

“You’re comparing the NFL with Division 3.”

Chen adds that BlackBerry still counts many of the biggest financial services firms as its customers.

“I’m very comfortable with the fact that we have lot of good technologists, know-how, patents, I’m quite encouraged about what we can get done,”

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