WATERLOO — On Monday at the BlackBerry Sales Summit, attended by 450 of the company’s direct salespeople, the company announced a major expansion of their relationship with Microsoft. BlackBerry BRIDGE is a deep technical integration which provides access to Microsoft Office 365 applications within the BlackBerry Dynamics secure container for mobile apps. It offers enterprise customers access to the Microsoft apps within the added security of BlackBerry. It also offers BlackBerry’s channel partners a new set of expanded opportunities, and also makes BlackBerry more attractive to strong Microsoft channel partners who had not been working with the company.
“This new partnership with Microsoft bridges BlackBerry applications with Microsoft Office 365 applications, to protect the data with proven BlackBerry technology,” Nigel Thompson, BlackBerry’s VP of Product Design, told the assembled salespeople at the Sales Summit. “It bridges two encryption models – BlackBerry encryption and Microsoft encryption. Under the seams, policy negotiation, encryption and de-encryption take place, so the data can go from one container to another.”
BRIDGE gives enterprise users the ability to use any Office 365 file on any iOS or Android device, but with the additional security of BlackBerry Dynamics on top. The user experience is the same as users have now, with no additional security steps required.
“It is completely seamless for the end user experience, and the end user doesn’t have to think about security with this at all,” said Mark Wilson, BlackBerry’s Chief Marketing Office. “If you put up blocks with security, people will go around them.”
Frank Cotter, BlackBerry’s SVP of Enterprise Software Products, emphasized that this integration isn’t a simple licensing deal or an easy technical handshake.
“There was a non-trival engineering challenge here, getting two companies’ containers to co-operate,” he said. “A lot of co-operation was involved to bring the solution to market. It is a very unique solution from both a product capability and an engineering point of view. We built it using the SDKs [software development kits] from both Microsoft Intune and BlackBerry Dynamics, and we have filed for a patent on it.”
The BRIDGE app sits between the two encryption models, decrypting data for a short time to move it between containers, and then and re-encrypting it as it moves along.
“Since it is two separate solutions, you want to make sure it’s the same user using both of them, so we also built in a strong identity capability,” Cotter added.
While the popularity of the iPad Pro in enterprises was really the key factor in driving this integration, Cotter said, the actual origin of the project has specific roots.
“Several large global US-based institutions wrote a letter to John Chen and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella 15 months ago asking for this,” said Carl Wiese, BlackBerry’s president of Global Sales. “That was the first genesis of this, and it was what started the conversation. The big Canadian banks shared all the same views, but were not actually involved.”
Wiese said that while previously, customers were able to do parts of what BRIDGE now does, nothing before enabled this degree of functionality.
“These customers asked for the ability to run native Microsoft applications inside our container,” he indicated. “Previously, ISV applications could do some of that before. For example, you could read a document and make annotations on it, but not edit it. Now many people can be actively involved in collaborating and editing the document securely. That is someone that no one else has in the marketplace. You now have the same experience on your mobile device as when you are sitting at your desk, and before, you couldn’t do that.”
No plans exist at this point to provide the same support for Google G Suite.
“Only a handful of enterprise customers use Google,” Wiese said. “The mega-demand from enterprises is for Microsoft.
“I’m not seeing a lot of demand for Google G Suite from enterprise customers at this time,” Cotter added. “Google is something you use for your hockey team’s schedule.”
BlackBerry BRIDGE is a BlackBerry product, and BlackBerry and its channel will be the go-to-market for it. It will go into public beta in April and is slated for general availability in May.
“It will be sold as an uplift charge over the suite they have today, through a subscription license on a per user/per year basis,” Wiese said. Customers will be able will be able to buy either the BRIDGE app alone, or as part of a bundle. Pricing has not quite been finalized yet.
65 per cent of BlackBerry’s business today goes through channel partners, and BRIDGE will be sold both direct and through the channel
“Our partners are very excited about this,” said Richard McLeod, BlackBerry’s VP of Global Enterprise Software Channel. “Today was the official announcement of the new capabilities, but we are committed to partners being ready at launch, and they were briefed a week ago. Partners have been going through the training materials. Over 50 partners have deployed it internally under beta, and over 750 partners are fully equipped to demonstrate its capabilities. All of the marketing materials are available on the partner hub as of today.”
McLeod noted that BRIDGE is making them more attractive to Microsoft-centric partners who had not been BlackBerry partners before.
“We are seeing new Microsoft partners coming in, and it is accelerating,” he said. Like traditional BlackBerry partners, they see the value that BRIDGE offers.
“Microsoft has a fine product but as we move into the mobility space, no one stacks up like we do in security,” McLeod indicated. “Our partners recognize that. We are Number One in Gartner in mobile security, while Microsoft dropped off their rankings.
“The increased capabilities that BlackBerry provides on top of Office 365 includes things you cannot do with just Office 365 alone,” McLeod added. “This includes changing meetings, forwarding meetings, and the search capabilities that layer on top of Office 365. It also provides additional security on top of Skype for Business. Microsoft partners see it as a nice security add-on that solves a problem for them.”
As part of the expanded Microsoft-BlackBerry relationship, the entire BlackBerry Secure platform, including BlackBerry UEM Cloud, BlackBerry Workspaces, BlackBerry Dynamics, and BlackBerry AtHoc, are now available on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform.
“BlackBerry UEM can also run on Azure on a Bring Your Own License model, and there are multiple positives for partners in this,” McLeod said.