RIM’s new motto: If you can’t beat them, join them

Nov 30, 2011

Michal Lev-Ram has been a senior writer at Fortune since 2011, writing frequently about technology.

FORTUNE -- How’s this for a sign of the times: BlackBerry maker Research in Motion will soon support iPhones and Android devices. Yes, that's right. On Tuesday RIM announced it is launching a mobile device management tool that will allow IT departments to control and secure rival phones running on rival operating systems. If anyone had any doubt that RIM’s supremacy over the enterprise is over, here’s your proof.

Then again, it's not all bad news for RIM (rimm). The software tools could signal a lucrative new services strategy for the struggling phone maker -- if it plays its cards right. After all, RIM has years of experience developing for the enterprise and strong brand recognition among IT departments. Of course, it runs the risk of cannibalizing its own handset line in the process of successfully supporting competing devices. And there's yet another hurdle for the company. Once the leader in all things enterprise, RIM is a little late to the “bring your own device” (BYOD) party.

The BYOD movement is growing and has led to a boom in the mobile device management industry, with multiple smaller players vying to secure the growing number of devices being brought into the workplace.

Android in particular has already spawned a number of management tools designed to help IT departments configure and control the many flavors of Google-powered devices. Redwood Shores-based Good Technology offers software to help secure email and data on Android phones. And just this week mobile device management startup MobileIron unveiled a new security platform especially for Android.

“Almost half of our customer base is already running at least some Android devices,” says Ojas Rege, VP of products at MobileIron. Rege expects a lot more Android phones to flood the workplace in 2012. So do analysts. According to a recent report by market research firm IDC, by 2015 “the enormous volume of Android phones in general will put the OS in the forefront as a leading employee-liable OS by far.”

A growing number of companies are already rushing in to support and secure the expected proliferation Android devices in the workplace. RIM's new mobile device management platform, called BlackBerry Mobile Fusion, will have to compete with all of these products. Of course, no one has more desire to see Android succeed in the enterprise than Google (goog) itself. That's why even the search engine recently launched its own mobile device management tools for Android.

Still, RIM has the right idea. You can't fight the BYOD movement. And if you can't beat iPhones and Android devices, the next best thing is to try and make a little money by supporting them. That won't solve RIM's bigger problems -- coming out with devices that consumers, not just CIOs, want to buy--but it's a start.

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