The two companies are long-time partners. For the past nine years, IBM's Mobile Enterprise Services organization has worked with clients on integrating the Blackberry Enterprise solution.
On its surface, this latest alliance looks like a smart one, combining Blackberry's dominance in the corporate market with Lotus Connections, IBM Software's fastest growing product. This will add to an existing integration between Blackberry devices and Lotus Sametime, another collaboration software from IBM. Lotus Sametime gives users the ability to see if others are online. It also includes instant messaging and calendar functions.
The alliance is strong but a big issue is the viability of applications on the Blackberry devices. Blackberry applications have seen little traction in the enterprise. The applications are pricey, too, costing $10, $20 or more.
But it is interesting to note that IBM will be selling the Blackberry devices already fully loaded with the Lotus software. This means the applications will be immediately available to customers. Corporate IT has, to this point, been reticent about allowing access to applications on Blackberry devices. This new partnership may make applications an easier sell to IT departments by combining the hardware and software into one package.
A major hindrance is the Blackberry's core functionality as a messaging device. It is not designed to serve a broad spectrum of applications. The iPhone and the Nexus One both have an optimized touchscreen interface that makes the devices better suited for that use. The Blackberry's keyboard makes it ideal for email and text messaging.
We expect the Lotus applications will be primarily used for viewing documents. Writing to documents on a Blackberry device seems like it would be quite laborious. Emailing comments to the collaboration environment would be more suitable, playing to the strengths of the Blackberry device.
It's unclear how fast the enterprise will adopt mobile applications but all signs show huge interest in smartphones by business users who want access to corporate applications whenever or wherever they may be. According to Forrester Research, IT managers are dramatically underestimating the demand for mobile in the enterprise. Forrester expects that perception will undoubtedly change as demand for full access soars over the next two years.
But RIM does look like it is on the right track. According to Forrester, mobile collaboration technologies are just beginning to grow in usage by smartphone users. Adoption will increase as more collaboration vendors make its applications available on mobile platforms.
"So what are employees doing with their smartphones? They mostly do basic things to stay productive: email, contact management, and calendaring. Productivity tools -- the ability to open, view, and perhaps mark up documents -- comes next, followed by a slew of specialized applications and one important nugget: team collaboration applications. Why isn't team collaboration adoption level higher? Because few companies are currently making applications like Cisco WebEx, Microsoft SharePoint, or Lotus Connections available to mobile devices."
We are seeing partnerships emerge that combine hardware and software technologies. Last week, Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard announced a $250 million partnership that will feature Microsoft software on Hewlett-Packard hardware to sell into data centers and cloud service providers.
Further, Google is now offering its own smartphone. HTC manufactures the device. An enterprise phone is in development. It will undoubtedly feature Google Apps as the built-in collaborative software.