Chalk up another purchase for RIM

In an effort to own more of its core business apps, Research In Motion Ltd. has purchased Vancouver-based Chalk Media Corp. and the company’s enterprise-focused multi-media content delivery system.

The BlackBerry maker announced the $23-million cash purchase on Thursday, which will add Chalk’s flagship Mobile chalkboard application suite to the RIM’s portfolio of products.

The deal is expected to close February 2009.

Rob Enderle, principal analyst for the Enderle Group, said that RIM’s purchase was motivated by the company’s desire to protect its core business applications and the BlackBerry experience from a hostile acquisition by mobile competitors.

“For instance, if Apple or Microsoft had bought this company, they would lose one of the more compelling aspects of their multi-media solution,” he said. “Owning the solution stack is now what everyone who is serious about this space wants to do and it will make for an interesting acquisition year [in 2009], as all three have money.”

Enderle added that Chalk’s tool is probably more consumer-focused at the movement, but he said that RIM obviously has strong plans to change this.

Using Mobile chalkboard, enterprises can deliver targeted video and audio files to their users in the form of “pushcasts.” Chalk said the delivered content can include short training videos, interactive surveys, or click-to-call-or-e-mail requests.

Marc Perrella, vice-president of the technology group at IDC Canada, said RIM’s purchase is part of a larger market trend that has seen businesses move beyond e-mail and instant messaging for corporate communications.

“Now we’ve got 3G networks and smart phone that have the ability to do thicker client apps,” he said.

Perrella added that organizations are looking to create a more favourable mobile working experience.

Speaking at RIM’s seventh annual Wireless Enterprise Symposium (WES) in Orlando, Fla., earlier this year, the company’s vice-president of global alliances, Jeff McDowell, said multi-media delivered to the handheld can be incredibly effective for enterprise communication. For example, creating and pushing out a minute-long video on how to operate a new corporate photocopier can be of tremendous value to some staff.

“Where it really comes to life is when there’s context, where you are at the time,” he said in reference to Chalk’s technology. “Generally, office photocopiers are not right next to your PC terminal.”

New forms of enterprise communication, such as wikis, blogs, instant messaging, podcasts, and social networks have exploded in popularity within the enterprise recently, according to Amit Kaminer, research analyst with the SeaBoard Group.

“We see more applications being developed to encourage that sort of communication, whether internally oriented to employees or externally directed to investors, sales channels and clients,” he said. “Chalk has a good product that plays nice with the BlackBerry and there’s much money to be made in the eLearning sector.”

Kaminer agreed with Enderle, saying that building up and protecting the BlackBerry’s ecosystem was the motivating factor behind the purchase.

But according to Ken Dulaney, vice-president and distinguished analyst at Gartner Inc., RIM’s purchase might actually be consumer-focused. RIM’s concerns are not about streaming media, but rather the ability to move media to the device and then have it played.

“That makes sure there are no interruptions from wireless Internet,” he added.

Perrella concurred with Dulaney, pointing to Mobile Chalkboard’s potential use for multi-media driven mobile marketing. If opted in, consumers can receive information in pushcast multi-media format about music, movies, shopping and other special interests, he added.

RIM spokespeople were unable to comment on this story.

– With files from IDG News Service