RIM Targets Hosted Email for SMBs

Pushing to extend its enterprise mobile email dominance to smaller companies, BlackBerry today released a new, hosted version of the BlackBerry Exchange Server directed at service providers serving small to medium-sized businesses.

The new version of BES, says RIM senior product manager David Heit, is designed to provide "the full BlackBerry experience" to "smaller companies that don’t have an IT department and that use some sort of hosted, outsourced IT services, whether it's from a third party or from their carrier."

The new BlackBerry server appears at a time when managed mobility services are increasing in popularity for companies that prefer not to invest heavily in in-house IT and staffing for mobile deployments. (See Going Mobile? Get Help .)

Up to half of all American workers are employed in small or medium-sized businesses, a segment that has a high percentage of mobile and remote employees but has been slow to adopt mobile email devices like BlackBerries or Treos from Palm Inc. Seeking to increase the relatively low percentage of mobile workers that use smartphones to access their corporate email while away from their desks, BlackBerry has made a number of down-market moves to attract sole proprietors and small-business employees. Those moves include BlackBerry Enterprise Server Express, a free, downloadable version of BES that comes with the purchase of a BlackBerry device and includes the option to purchase up to 15 user licenses.

"There is no doubt there is pent-up demand for BlackBerry and wireless email among small and medium-sized businesses," says Jack Gold, principal analyst at research firm J. Gold Associates. "The issue to date has been how they would implement it."

The new version of BES, which will be marketed to service providers, should make implementation as easy as "go purchase a BlackBerry and let your service provider know, register the device, activate it and go," says Heit. "There's no software download, no installation, no nothing."

The entry of RIM into the managed-services market is actually overdue, according to Daniel Taylor, managing director of the Mobile Enterprise Alliance .

"Today, the hosted email services from companies like HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ), MailStreet, and 4Smartphone offer support for a range of devices, including Symbian Ltd. , Palm, Windows Mobile, and BlackBerry," notes Taylor. "It's good to see RIM finally announce a managed service offering."

The availability of the BlackBerry server as a hosted service should also provide a boon for wireless carriers, says Carmi Levy, senior research analyst at Info-Tech Research Group : "The new service opens up a new revenue stream opportunity for wireless carriers, which can now deliver BlackBerry service to small companies that previously would not have considered themselves eligible."

That said, however, RIM could face the same problem with its hosted offering that it has faced in its BlackBerry-centric device model: exclusivity in a sector with rapidly expanding choices.

"As users select the newest devices available, IT will be pressured to provide multi-platform support for mobile email, and managed services provide an easy way to give users what they want," explains Taylor. "In that context, RIM's hosted offering doesn't go far enough to provide what IT managers want either in terms of managed services or heterogeneous device support."

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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