Michael Brown, V.P. Security Product Management and Research
BlackBerry's Michael K. Brown talked about its new direction at Gartner Symposium

ORLANDO — It’s difficult for some to believe that BlackBerry was once the dominant smartphone in the world. In the parlance of another era, it “led the life of Riley.” If you are old enough to understand that phrase, you  may be even be a little nostalgic about the handset. You may miss the days when you could type on that keyboard and be incredibly productive on that little device that changed our lives. Well, Blackberry is back.

If you want to win back an enterprise customer base there is no better place to make your case than the Gartner Symposium and IT Expo. With over 8,500 delegates and 3,000 CIO’s here, this is the forum for an enterprise company. BlackBerry chose to make its appeal to government enterprise customers.

Blackberry’s Michael K. Brown knew he was the underdog. He joked about getting the “prime” end of day spot on day one. Vice-president of security, product management and research, Brown is a veteran of Blackberry and has been with the company since its early days. But he’s also the new face of BlackBerry – making the case to defend a more focused customer base in the enterprise space.

Brown got the challenges for the enterprise absolutely right. Users need more than email. Freedom of choice is essential. Enterprises need to simplify to quickly enable and manage a homogeneous set of devices. Last –they need to “future proof’ their investments.

These challenges are exacerbated for government. Public enterprises must do all this with another layer of constraints:

• Complex, high stakes mobility environment
• Multi-platform, multi-OS, multi-device, BYOD (bring your own device) and COPE (corporately owned, personally enabled) demands
• Mobility is a “force multiplier” critical to strategies that generate efficiencies and productivity increases

While all this is playing out the pressure on enterprises to secure and protect devices has never been greater. We store more data on these mobile devices than ever before. When Brown talked about finding an iPad in a taxi, we couldn’t help but wonder what that would have revealed or exposed.

Hacking, malware, phishing and other social engineering have reached new levels of sophistication and are growing rapidly. You can buy kits on the Internet that are highly effective. Recent revelations show that foreign governments and agencies routinely target our enterprises. Yet only a relatively minor effort has really been applied to mobile devices. Governments are major targets.

Thankfully there are simply much easier targets like poorly configured web-servers that distract hackers from targeting devices.

(More from Gartner Symposium here)

Sooner or later that will change. But are we prepared? Not according to Brown.
It’s in this emerging enterprise market that BlackBerry seeks to make new inroads. It’s no longer about the handsets. The new BES products will manage all devices with a higher degree of security. BlackBerry Messenger is running on all products and provides secure inter-device communication regardless what end devices are in the mix.

Not only does Brown not focus on the handset, he says something that only a few years ago you would never think to hear from a BlackBerry executive. Security and effective management are “not about the handset”.

In fact if it weren’t for BlackBerry’s long history, a listener might not know that he represented a device manufacturer. When it came to security, he focused not on the technical – surprising, since he is a mathematician and cryptologist – but on people and processes, the keys to winning the enterprise. After all, as he said, “security is not about how we protect the user. It’s about building secure business processes. “

Brown gave business-based examples – targeted to a public sector audience. He talked about police services in the U.K. that used mobile solutions to keep more people in the field. He noted that there were concrete advantages to this – an increase in the number of arrests.

He pointed out that the real danger in security is not technical – it’s people. If users are too restricted they will find ways to get around tough rules and they will leave the systems exposed to even greater risks. In a world where the average person has twenty-five passwords, is it any wonder that people get sloppy?

Despite a clear and factual presentation, Brown wasn’t above an emotional appeal. “We have a history of building products together, “ he told this large public sector audience. “We brought you secure email.” And “end to end security is in Blackberry’s DNA.”

But Brown also gave some clear and objective advice that was part of the very business oriented presentation he made. Ignore the acronyms. Ensure that security is built in early in the process. It costs a lot more to retrofit. Bugs and errors will happen. This is a “going in” assumption in any system.

Realistic. Focused. Good advice.

The conclusion of all of that advice did point towards Blackberry and its new position as security expert, manager of sophisticated, proven, secure and above all heterogeneous Mobile Device Management (MDM) solutions. Oh yes. They also make phones.