BlackBerry Mobile Fusion: For RIM, too little, too late

Research in Motion unveils MDM platform, but what took it so long?

Research in Motion's big unveiling Tuesday of an enterprise mobile device-management platform that can handle Android and iOS devices is no sudden strategic shift for the ailing BlackBerry maker.

It's been a long time coming -- too long, in fact. Way back in early May, RIM acquired German software company ubitexx, with the express purpose of rolling out mobile management software that went beyond BlackBerry devices to accommodate the smartphones and tablets that have invaded the enterprise, where RIM once had a dominant foothold.

That was nearly seven months ago. In the meantime, RIM has seen its device sales, revenue and share price plummet, with no end in sight. In other words, the company has been standing on a burning platform.

Yet RIM"s response could generously be described as leisurely. I know it takes time for acquisitions to clear regulatory hurdles, but you would think RIM has been doing some work to integrate ubitexx's ubi-Suite device management solution with its BlackBerry Enterprise platform. You know, to hit the ground running.

Not quite. RIM's mobile device-management software isn't going to be available for at least three more months:

BlackBerry Mobile Fusion is currently in early beta testing with select enterprise customers. RIM is now accepting customer nominations for the closed beta program which will start in January, and general availability is expected in late March.

Note, by the way, the "expected in late March" hedge. Even if Fusion is available by then, that's still almost a year since the ubitexx acquisition was announced.

And this is the fundamental problem with RIM. It has responded too slowly to competitors and changing market conditions.

Not only is this a problem in terms of transitioning the company away from its reliance on device sales and platform purity, it makes it even harder for RIM to compete in the mobile device management arena. It's not like RIM is creating a new market or serving an unfulfilled need. There already are plenty of MDM vendors, including Good Technology, Sybase, Zenprise, AirWatch and McAfee, not to mention dozens of smaller competitors.

Which means RIM can't expect to walk into the MDM market and dominate. The outcome may be just the opposite, especially as the number of IT leaders who cling to the old BlackBerry enterprise paradigm continues to dwindle.

If RIM can't reverse its fortunes in the smartphone market -- and there's no evidence that it can -- and becomes no more than another player in the MDM market, shareholders and employees are facing a grim future.

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