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BlackBerry bets big on enterprise mobility in Africa

BlackBerry might have lost the smartphone market share battle in Africa and elsewhere to Samsung and other OEMs, but the company’s multibillion dollar enterprise solution space is still intact according to Nader Henein the regional director, Advanced Security Solutions — Advisory Division of BlackBerry.

In this exclusive interview, Henein sheds more light on mobility for African enterprises, the key components, adoption in Africa and security (especially cybercrimes).

According to Henein, enterprises need to go beyond just venturing into digitisation of their operations to embracing a mobile first strategy.

“Mobile gives you the ability as a company to answer emails faster than your competitors because you can’t be at the desktop at all times. However, most organisations stop there — they rarely go into the application ecosystem and getting return on investment. That’s what most organisations lack — they don’t have a return on investment strategy around the mobility platform.

Many companies don’t wonder about how successful their mobile strategy is, says Nader Henein

“The questions they need to ask is how do I measure? Is what I’m doing valuable to the business? How valuable is it? Is it worth the effort?” Henein writes.

“But if you create out of that mobility an advantage to the business and you add more capabilities, to applications, to web-based forums, capacities for them to do a lot more and to give more to customers, then you have a strategy. You can then say ‘I’m going to spend this morning with the intent of achieving this goal and this is how I’m going to measure it.'”

Henein explains that few organisations know how to answer the question “how do you measure if your mobile strategy is working?” He notes that most haven’t thought why they were going mobile, merely jumping on the bandwagon without thinking of measuring efficiency.

Paul Adepoju: How do you convince African businesses who are not tech savvy and just acquired PCs to digitise their operations that the way forward now is mobile?

Nader Henein: For me, the conversation would start by understanding what they do. I’m saying point-blank that not everyone out there needs mobility in their business. It starts by understanding what they do — how they make money, how can they make more money — by adding people as salespersons, more stores, more inventories? From there you get an idea of what drives them. Is it more important to have more customers or is it more important to make more money from current customers?

Then you seek and choose solutions in the mobile ecosystem that best serve the company — those that drive more customers and generate more revenues. You want it to easily configurable because they don’t have to be maintaining it via IT support which they don’t have.

Henein also touched on the challenge African companies face going from PC to mobile

And do you want it to work offline because of the connectivity challenges that are in and around Africa.

I’ve lived in Africa for the better part of my life and I understand some of the concerns. Connectivity is always there, technology is also a challenge not only from bottom up but also top down. Even though the prices of devices are low.

PA: What are the peculiar African issues regarding enterprise mobility and security since phones can get stolen or lost more easily than PCs?

NH: It is easy to lose tablets and smartphones with sensitive information on them which is why it is expected that they are protected. This is where companies like BlackBerry come in. Our solutions allow companies to manage devices — it allows them to lock them, it allows them to protect the information on them via encryption, and to wipe the device or the corporate information on them remotely if the device is lost or stolen.

When a device is lost or stolen, the person usually discards the SIM card and the device cannot receive the command. In our policy, we have what we call the time bomb which means if the device does not connect to the corporate network for a period of time, it starts deleting the corporate information on it automatically and without any interference from a third party. These are the kinds of tools that an organisation – small or large – can enable for the users in the organisation within few minutes.

BlackBerry enterprise is built around enablement. It’s built around allowing companies to achieve more, to manage more devices to achieve more goals, become more efficient with the least amount of experts.

PA: How realistic, in present day Africa, is a mobile-only strategy a realistic option for enterprises?

NH: Mobile first is the common strategy in today’s… up and coming organisations that don’t want to be shackled to a lot of hardware. Each one of them already has a phone, you can enable that phone quite easily, you don’t have to spend on anything and you are up and running within minutes.

It doesn’t require an IT infrastructure anymore, you don’t need to spend money on servers, redundancy, connectivity. All you need is a smartphone and SIM card and people out there already have that. This way, you have no upfront cost in terms of capital expenditure and the ongoing cost is just the license per month – if you add more users you add more licenses. If you remove some people, you remove their licenses and you are paying on a monthly basis. That means your costs are under control. And that’s exactly what you need. It doesn’t give you more than or less than you need.

PA: Even though BlackBerry has remained a preferred choice OEM for African corporate men and women, why has the company not been making much noise about its enterprise mobility services as much as it should have?

NH: I will tell you why. Let me give you an example. If somebody uses a BlackBerry prototype device in a restaurant in Lagos, it will be front page news on the blogs in an hour. But if I have a room full of reporters and put my 12-year enterprise strategy on the table, I doubt anybody will reach out to pick it up. It’s just that the device is more exciting from a PR and user perspective. The enterprise solution is not much exciting for a PR, it only appeals to the enterprise customers.

BlackBerry’s enterprise business doesn’t dominate headlines as much as the device department

For them, getting their views requires explanation. They do research, ask their peers and seek products that are specifically focused on them but it’s not for mass media. This is why most of the news you hear about BlackBerry are about the devices even though it’s such a small part of BlackBerry today. The enterprise business is a multi-billion dollar business and yet it’s not as [well – ed] known as the devices.

We’ve been in enterprise business for decades. We’ve been offering enterprise solutions since we launched our first device. Both went hand-in-hand. When we started selling devices, we were selling them into banking and government. We had solutions for management from day one but the devices are more exciting.

PA: Connectivity remains a critical issue. What options are there for African users of mobile enterprise solutions?

NH: The benefit from our side is that we weren’t born during the 2G and 3G era. We were born 20 years ago when connectivity speed was 12kbps which is why BlackBerry is extremely efficient for data usage and consumption. A lot of carriers offer unlimited packages for BlackBerry devices but they don’t offer such for other ones.

We’ve built our enterprise solutions to be very efficient by being very light. You don’t need the massive types of connection provided by 3G/4G for voice, video and other heavy purposes.

PA: How are African enterprises adopting BlackBerry mobile enterprise solutions?

NH: I can’t go into details of specific customers but the majority of large banks across Africa are our customers. And not just for management of devices, but we have other solutions enabled for mobility, for securing files within the borders of the enterprise. We have multiple solutions for them including mobile emergency communication. Our solutions are efficiently deployed across Africa which allows us to add more users making it possible for scaling. It is also efficient for data. We also provide end-to-end security for our users across Africa.

PA: What is current status of mobile enterprise adoption in Africa?

NH: Africa has been very good in terms of mobile adoption because the wired connectivity has never really expanded to rural areas. I expect Africa to lead in terms of adoption pace and in terms of what comes next, I think we are going into a space in enterprise where nothing is going to be in- house, nothing is going to be on premises. And the reason behind that is security, upgradability and the capacity to be extremely efficient.

BlackBerry claims to always be ahead of cyber criminals

When it comes to security, the next thing is thinking of independent components on their own. Singularity is a big area of growth. For instance, when I send you a document, I want to be told you’ve opened it. I want to be told where you opened it and I want to know if the file is shared with somebody else. As the document owner, that capacity has been very limited throughout the past ten years but now the feature is becoming available.

PA: What does the future portend for cyber crimes in enterprise mobility space — in Africa and beyond?

NH: It will continue to be a challenge. Most of the wealth of the world is moving from physical brick and mortar assets to digital assets. As this grows, so will the criminal elements. There is a constant growth in the number of cyber-attacks, their complexity and organisation. Is there a silver bullet? Whenever we take a step forward, they take a step forward too. There have been several steps forward over the past few years – we’ve gone from people living in basements to hack corporate organisations, to organised crime syndicates using these solutions because they’ve identified that instead of the drug business, they can break into the computers of people who live multiple countries away, steal their money and walk away without any kind of capacity to track them.

It’s very difficult to legislate, you have to cross multiple borders even if you can identify the person on the other end, you have to then coordinate with police forces in these countries. So the defense in this case is to make sure that you are properly protected and the wall around you is high enough. And that’s why BlackBerry has a massive security assurance that works end-to-end to ensure that we are always ahead of the attackers; we are always ahead of the cyber criminals.

Author | Paul Adepoju

Paul Adepoju
Paul Adepoju is a media entrepreneur, published author and award-winning Nigeria-based freelance journalist. He speaks regularly at major African technology events including NigeriaCom and Nigeria eHealth Forum. More

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