BlackBerry adds crisis communications solution to its portfolio

BlackBerry is extending its security portfolio with the acquisition of a provider of crisis communications solutions for response teams.

The company said this morning it is buying San Mateo, Calif.-based AtHoc Inc., whose cloud platform can message staff to share information when alerts are triggered from a wide range of sources, including social media, fire panels, sirens, mobile app, desktop, two-way radios and wearable devices.

“BlackBerry is making strategic investments in security, privacy and the Internet of Things, and acquiring AtHoc will enable us to provide a holistic, end-to-end approach to communications,” company CEO John Chen said in a statement.  “AtHoc’s technology and expertise will play a key role as BlackBerry works to connect and secure a broad range of endpoints.”

AtHoc CEO Guy Miasnik said the deal “will give us the ability to scale more quickly to expand our global reach and introduce new applications for the AtHoc platform, while continuing to serve our government and enterprise customers.”  The statement said one new application might integrating AtHoc solutions with BBM Meetings, allowing it to carry live video feeds or transmit messages designated staff during an alert.

The price BlackBerry [TSX: BB] paid wasn’t disclosed. The deal is expected to be completed later this year.

Meanwhile Canadian Press reports that BlackBerry has laid off an unspecified number of staff, part of a continuing restructuring to save money.

In an interview Gartner risk and security management analyst Roberta Witty said the deal pulls BlackBerry more into selling more services. AtHoc offers services that are “a layer above the plumbing of telecommunications” like email, collaboration and conferencing she said, such as the ability to track people and tailor messages to them to help manage an event. It could lead BlackBerry from crisis communications to crisis management solutions, she added.

AtHoc customers include the Parliament of Canada, the U.S. Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, and more than 200 hospitals in the U.S. Its most recent product is Connect, which allows AtHoc subscriber organizations to invite other companies to join its network. Connected members can use the AtHoc platform to exchange alerts, share multi-media content, and geographical based information.

A number of company compete in the emergency communications space including Everbridge, SendWordNow, Global AlertLink, Sungard Availability Services, Blackboard Connect, Omnilert and OneCallNow. In March, Everbridge announced a partnership with Federal Signal, a provider of environmental and public safety products, to develop a unified communications platform allowing Federal Signal’s physical safety devices to initiate and receive emergency notifications and other communications.

At the time Gartner research wrote that the partnership “gives both the companies a new potential customer base — Everbridge can sell its EMNS solutions; Federal Signal can sell its IoT devices. It also pressures Everbridge’s competitors to find similar deals covering the breadth and volume of IoT devices. More importantly, over time, as more IoT devices become available, customers implementing devices from several manufacturers won’t want to manage multiple EMNS services. A few market-leading EMNS providers could then emerge to manage IoT device alerts. But the more likely result will be the need for an IoT version of the Common Alerting Protocol — an XML-based data format for exchanging public warnings and emergencies between alerting technologies.”

Last week AtHoc announced a partnership with Esri Inc. to make that company’s ArcGIS technology — which displays maps of the locations of people and devices — to AtHoc’s notification suite.

In a BlackBerry blog Miasnik said the “mass notification sector is actually a pretty significant and growing market. Governments are an obvious market as many agencies provide critical services. The defense industry is another key market. We’re also seeing traction among many organizations that need to coordinate large numbers of people to respond to any kind of disruption — think of a university or a chemical company. Really, any organization that has a disaster recovery plan involving the coordination of larger groups of people could be a customer.”


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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@]

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