BlackBerry has the security portfolio; now it must sell it

BlackBerry Security Summit

Taking place yesterday in New York City, BlackBerry’s second annual security summit had a ring of familiar sameness: BlackBerry CEO John Chen was onstage cracking jokes and ‘going off script’; a new security-focused acquisition was inducted into the family; the holy triumvirate of regulated industries (government, healthcare, finance) were invoked as the target market; the journalists on hand mostly wanted to talked about handsets.

About an hour in, the reason for BlackBerry to hold a second security summit suddenly became clear.

Taking the stage, Marty Beard, BlackBerry’s COO, clearly and succinctly outlined the company’s strategic thesis towards profitability. Namely, that the explosion of connected devices, networks, data, and applications will force enterprises towards a platform that can securely manage those endpoints. BlackBerry, with its “deep decades of experience,” as Beard put it, with networks, connectivity, devices, and security, is uniquely suited to capitalize on an exploding market.

Placed in that context, BlackBerry’s security summit was a useful watermark to establish how far the company had come in a year.

No one can accuse the company of being complacent. Chen stated that the company has invested $100 million over the past year in creating new security products, and has the results to show for it: the acquisitions of Secusmart, AtHoc, WatchDox, and Movirtu, the release of BES12 and BBM Protected, partnerships with Samsung and Google, and the announcement of the BlackBerry Experience Suite. In just over a year, BlackBerry has constructed a compelling security stack.

The next step for BlackBerry, of course, is to profit from its security portfolio. That may prove slightly more difficult.

Speaking in depth about BlackBerry’s aim to “secure all endpoints” for its enterprise customers, Chief Security Officer David Kleidermacher was honest about the sales challenge of security, despite a recent global string of high-profile hacks. The problem, he said, is convincing enterprise that it can be proactive rather than reactive in combating threats.

BlackBerry’s long difficulties with messaging and marketing will also hinder its efforts. Beard stated that the company was in the midst of figuring out how to package its security offering in a way its sales and marketing teams can jump on, but the security summit clearly indicated there is more work to be done. The event as a whole was disjointed and meandering, often presenting the right content at the wrong time – BlackBerry would have been much better off not burying Beard and its hacking demonstration in the event’s back half.

For all his relatability, Chen can also get in trouble when speaking with lazy journalists who know it’s the smartphone stories that push impressions. But referencing the recent Jeep hack story at a security summit when the vehicle runs on QNX is just bad staff work.

BlackBerry has come a long way in the past year expanding its security portfolio to position itself for sustained success. The next year will prove telling as to whether the company is ready to capitalize.

Disclosure: I worked for BlackBerry from 2009-2011. Security was a big deal back then, too.