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BlackBerry - A Managed Decline?

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RIM's chief executive has announced his new strategy for the ailing mobile devices firm: they are going to focus on the business sector. For RIM's new strategy to work they will need to subvert some key IT trends, some of which have already taken hold and will be difficult to uproot.

BlackBerry smartphones, although still selling in large numbers and a leader in some segments, have seen their popularity decline in the face of competition from Apple, Samsung and others. Something had to change. Moreover, with BlackBerry's heritage as a provider of devices to businesses, it makes sense to focus on a market you know and one where you have a strong foothold.

There are two challenges, however, which might make this new strategy one of managed decline rather than renewed growth: tight IT budgets; and the consumerisation of IT.

In terms of IT budgets, the story is simple: money's tight and there is lots to do. According to Gartner, budgets are still below their peak and, as economic uncertainty persists, companies are keeping a tight rein on costs. This problem is compounded by the need for companies to keep up with the changing IT landscape. The rise of cloud computing, trends toward home working, the need to integrate tablet computers and securing networks from data loss - both internal through the greater use of cloud computing and external as hacktivists overtake hackers in their strike rate - are all big issues that need addressing. Shortly, in Europe at least, there will new data protection legislation that will require new compliance regimes. This all points to tight IT budgets becoming tighter.

Many companies have found that there's a way to minimise some costs and get a boost in productivity: let your employees buy their own mobile devices and use them for work. Indeed I'm writing this on a tablet computer, from which I can also access work emails and my calendar. I have similar functionality on my phone. When working from home I can access the work network from my laptop using a virtual desktop.

The trend, which encompasses a number of other factors such as the development of more consumer-centric software, is grandly called the consumerisation of IT. My employer isn't alone in doing this. A recent study by Accenture found that 40% of employees use personal devices to access work information. That number is set to grow and will do so rapidly; it has more than doubled in the past two years.

There are security issues in allowing employees to access work data on their personal devices, but systems exist and will continue to develop which minimise or mitigate these. The benefits are clear: a flexible, responsive, always connected workforce.

As people use their personal smartphones, tablets and laptops to access their work data, it is inevitable that IT departments will spend less and less of hardware and more on systems that prevent data loss while enabling access from a variety of personal devices.

Blackberry used to set the trends, then they tried to follow them with the launch of touchscreen phones and tablet computers, now they're trying to fight them. I'm not sure they'll succeed.