Mobile Fusion will allow enterprises to control a wide range of smart phones and tablets. But investors may be having second thoughts about the company’s future

RIM releases unified mobile management platform

Research In Motion has finally released its next-generation Mobile Fusion device management platform, the next step in what it hopes will be a reversal of the company’s fortunes.

An upgrade to BlackBerry Enterprise Server, Mobile Fusion manages not only RIM’s smart phones and PlayBook tablets, but also devices running Apple Inc.’s iOS and Google Inc.’s Android operating systems.

RIM [Nasdaq: RIMM] is betting that the wider capabilities of Mobile Fusion will appeal to businesses who want a single mobile management platform for overseeing all of the devices employees are allowed to connect to a corporate network.

It’s part of a strategy for getting the attention of organizations, which has been waning as staff demand the ability to bring iOS and Android devices to work. That has caused BlackBerry sales to slump.

However, also on Tuesday the company saw its stock price drop just over 9 per cent after investors last week seemed somewhat reassured by assurances from company CEO Thorsten Heins that he has a plan to stabilize the business.

The day after Heins spoke the stock went up. Tuesday’s drop suggest investors are having second thoughts.

Heins said that the strategy includes finding hardware and software partners to shore up the company. But an industry observer who asked not to be identified said investors may be wondering who will partner before they see the long-awaited BlackBerry 10 devices. That’s not expected until late this year.

RIM’s customers have been asking for a unified mobile management application, said Peter Walker, RIM’s senior director of enterprise product management.

“There are other solutions on the market – it’s actually quite a crowded market place,” he said. “Last I looked there were close to 100. We believe this is certainly a much more appealing proposition for our customers to get this from a trusted player and, certainly for larger customers, we believe we’ve got the security and the compliance covered – which may be unchartered waters for some of these other solutions.”
 
Not only does Mobile Fusion offer the ability to enforce corporate policies and RIM’s encrypted virtual private network connectivity. It also offers organizations the ability to separate corporate from personal apps and data on user devices, a capability called BlackBerry Balance.

RIM recommends BES users be on version 5.03 before they upgrade to Mobile Fusion. For those who aren’t on BES, Mobile Fusion is a merely new application.

It’s a free download. Unlike BES, organizations don’t have to pay a fee for each server it runs on.

As before, there’s a $99 client access licence. However, new is a $4 a month per user subscription option (billed annually).

Mark Tauschek,  a lead analyst at Info-Tech Research Group, said Mobile Fusion won’t shore up RIM’s revenue, nor is it likely to slow the rate at which organizations are dropping BlackBerrys. But, he added, “it keeps them in the enterprise with some mind share.”

Recent Info-Tech research suggests 66 per cent of enterprises have BES, he said. About 19 per cent have third party mobile management apps. That’s twice as many as year ago, he acknowleged, but the number of BES installations has remained steady.

RIM had to offer a unified mobile management platform, he added as the sector consolidates. Data protection vendor Sophos said Tuesday it has bought Germany’s Dialogs, a large European mobile management application provider, while last month Symantec Corp. bought Odessey Software.

Out of the box, Mobile Fusion can manage BlackBerry smart phones and PlayBook tablets. To manage iOS and Android devices, however, need a free client app installed.

Not all of Mobile Fusion’s capabilities will be available on all non-RIM devices, the company warns, but will be up to the operating systems.

“For an existing (BES) user it’s an easy upgrade,” Walker said. “It’s all the Enterprise Server was and more.”

Walker estimates there are about 250,000 BES installations. He expects those on the latest version will upgrade to Mobile Fusion “very quickly.”

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