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BlackBerry reaffirms commitment to federal customers

Oct. 29, 2013 - 01:18PM   |  
Scott Totzke, BlackBerry's senior vice president of security
Scott Totzke, BlackBerry's senior vice president of security (Courtesy photo)

BlackBerry has seen better days.

The company’s once impenetrable grip on the federal market has been challenged in recent months as more agencies open their networks to Apple and Android devices. Some agencies have stopped supporting BlackBerry devices altogether, and others are concerned about the company’s viability.

Last month, BlackBerry reported nearly $1 billion in losses during the second quarter and announced it is reducing its workforce by 40 percent, or 4,500 positions. Future ownership of the company is also unclear.

Scott Totzke, BlackBerry’s senior vice president of security, said one certainty is the company’s commitment to government and enterprise markets, now more than ever. Totzke noted the Defense Department — Blackberry’s largest federal customer — is testing BlackBerry 10 devices and has installed new enterprise servers to support the devices. “They depend on BlackBerry,” he said.

Federal Times spoke with Totzke. Following are edited excerpts:

How would you describe BlackBerry’s current state?

There’s definitely a lot of stuff being reported about us in the media, and it has been well covered that we’re exploring a lot of different options in terms of where the company evolves to next. Our focus is really now more than ever on enterprise security in government. So, we’re really looking at what the roots are in terms of BlackBerry and the value that we’ve brought to the customer base, especially here in D.C., and making that the strategic focus for the company as we move forward.

What types of conversations are you having with your federal customers today, and what are their biggest concerns?

They’re very concerned there isn’t an alternative solution that’s going to offer them the equivalent level of security and ease of use and management capabilities. ... The underlying tone there is what’s the viability of the business? We really have to go back and walk through as a company refocusing on enterprise and security. ... We’re going to go back to our strengths, and many of our customers are actually quite delighted to hear that is the direction because they need an enterprise solution and not a consumer electronic solution.

How will BlackBerry’s new direction impact the way agencies interface with the company?

It’s largely business as usual. ... The way you procure devices and interact with the company, none of that is changing. ... I can’t predict the outcome of any transaction, but I don’t see any of this changing in the foreseeable future and expect to be a regular here in D.C. as part of the team that supports the federal government.

Many agencies are opting to use other devices instead of the BlackBerry, and some have complained the security of the devices impedes functionality. What do you see as the main driver for agencies leaving BlackBerry?

The lockdown aspect of the platform is probably the greatest strength and probably one of the weaknesses from a usability standpoint. ... There were 450, 500 different controls, but what that did from an IT perspective, it turned the administrator into ... the guy who said ‘no’ to everything. In order to manage risk we just started to disable functionality: Limit Wi-Fi, limit Web browsing, limit applications, stop use of Bluetooth. ... We looked at how we can make this a different way of addressing the problem, and the net result of that is BlackBerry Balance. In BlackBerry 10, we create two very separate worlds. You have your personal [account] ... in one domain, and then we have a work domain. The work domain is really what’s governed by the IT organization.

Is government in a post-BlackBerry era?

I don’t agree with that at all. The nature of the industry continues to change. We have extremely strong support from government for BlackBerry, and I don’t really see that changing at any point in the future. From my perspective, it’s our most important vertical that we focus on. ... There is no single kind of homogenous agency from a technology perspective. It’s all about device diversity and being able to manage a heterogeneous environment. What we give them there is that one pane of glass behind the firewall that lets them manage iOS, Android, BlackBerry devices and get a consistent level of security administration and audit.

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