RIM finally launches closer link to Office 365

Mobile workers whose organizations subscribe to Microsoft Corp.’s cloud-based Office 365 service can now access some of the messaging applications through Research In Motion’s BlackBerry smart phones.

RIM said Monday that BlackBerry Business Cloud Services for Office 365 is now in production after a four-month test. BCS synchronizes BlackBerry handsets wirelessly with the data in hosted versions of Microsoft Exchange Online email, calendar and organizer.

It essence, it’s the cloud counterpart to RIM’s BlackBerry Enterprise Server Express for on-premise versions of Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Domino.

To help IT managers, Business Cloud Services also integrates with the Office 365 Administrative Portal for management, which includes allowing users the ability to reset a password or remotely lock or wipe a device in case of loss or theft.

Before BCS, BlackBerrys could only connect to Office 365 through BlackBerry Internet Service – and only for email.

The tie-in lets Microsoft tout Office 365 can now be used on a platform that business users associate with security.

“I’m surprised it’s taken so long,” Nigel Wallis, research director for application solutions at IDC Canada, said of the release, because Office 365 launched just over two years ago.

On the other hand, if RIM is going to handle a Microsoft service that promises access round the clock, it had better deliver – and lately RIM has been “overpromising” there, Wallis said, referring to last year’s record four-day service problems. He guesses ironing out that is one reason why the deal took so long.

Pete Devenyi, RIM’s senior vice-president of enterprise software said his company recognized that other handsets could link to Office 365 through Microsoft ActiveSync, but it wanted to provide richer management capabilities than Microsoft’s Business Productivity Online Services (BPOS).

Business Cloud Services for Office 365 does that

Within the Office 365 Administrative Portal, there is an option for enabling a BlackBerry device. It automatically pulls the Office 365 user information into Business Cloud Services (once the required legal notices have been checked off). The administrator then has a link to BCS for creating users and groups.

Devenyi cautioned that BCS doesn’t run behind a corporate firewall, and therefore can’t give secure access to business applications. If you want that, turn to the full Office suite with BlackBerry Enterprise Server.

The new RIM service is free to medium and enterprise subscribers of the Office 365 suite, or standalone Exchange Online. It works with BlackBerrys on business or consumer data plans and is available in over 50 countries.

The partner that gets the best advantage in the pact is Microsoft, Wallis said, which is trying to fend off the popularity of Google Docs. One of the advantages of a pact with BlackBerry it can offer a secure mobile solution.

Canadian organizations — like most organizations around the world – still lean towards on-premise applications. And Wallis acknowledges that Microsoft isn’t pitching Office 365 as a replacement for its full Office suite.

According to an IDC Canada survey last fall, 6.5 per cent of the 201 medium- and large-sized companies that responded were Office 365 customers. Another 6.5 per cent said they were planning to add the service in the next 12 months.

By comparison, 23 per cent said they were using Google Docs, and another 4.5 per cent were planning to adopt in 2012.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a game-changer,” commented Christian Kane, an infrastructure and operations analyst at Forrester Research, “but given how many BlackBerrys are inside the enterprise it’s a great piece for RIM in general. It’s an added value for them.”

Similarly, Wes Miller, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft said BCS is a logical extension of the partnership between Microsoft [Nasdaq: MSFT] and RIM [TSX: RIM] and will appeal to organizations loyal to the BlackBerry platform.

“One of the key points is that if you have faith in the BlackBerry cloud, then this really enables you to take advantage of Office 365 while you do that. The other (mobile) platforms don’t have BES.”